Francisco Pizarro – Hero to Some, Enemy to Others

If you look in the history book of Ecuador, one Spanish name in particular will stand out – that of Francisco Pizarro González. In fact, his name reappears frequently in much of the history surrounding the Spanish conquest of South America, and some even label Pizarro as the ‘conqueror of the Inca Empire’ or as the ‘founder of Lima’.

It is interesting to note, that despite his remarkable accomplishments, Pizarro was the illegitimate son of an infantry colonel who served in the Italian campaigns and made a bit of a name for himself. His mother was a poor woman from Trujillo, Spain, and he was born in her home city. It is estimated that Pizarro was born sometime between 1475 and 1478, but his exact birth date is unknown.

Pizarro – like many of his contemporaries – had an insatiable lust for gold. Spurred on by the tales of the cities of gold spread by earlier explorers, Pizarro quickly made plans to start exploring the South American continent. In 1524 he seems to have made a verbal contract with a soldier, Diego de Almagro, and a priest, Hernando de Luque. It was decided that while Pizarro would lead the expeditions, the Almagro would provide military assistance and food, while Luque would take care of the finances. The goal was to split the abundant treasures they expected to find into three equal portions. Before long Pizarro set sail for South America.

Much of his exploits tend to fall within the boundaries of Peru and it is for his dealings in this country that Pizarro gained his biggest reputation. Nevertheless, in 1531, he arrived in Ecuador to discover the country torn apart by civil war. This was not his first visit to the country. His initial discovery of Ecuador took place shortly after the Incas had conquered the land and built a unified empire. On that occasion, the local people were deemed too strong to oppress and Pizarro and his forces withdrew. This time, however, the empire was in a shambles. Atahualpa wanted to defeat his brother Huascar and re-unify the empire. Atahualpa could not possibly have factored the Spanish invasion into his plans.

Shortly after arriving, the Spanish built a fort in Cajamarca, captured Atahualpa and held him for ransom. Their high ransom demands were set and before long, one entire room was filled with gold while a further two were filled with silver. During his captivity, Atahualpa did not rest on his laurels. He organized to have his half-brother murdered in Cusco. Shortly after those plans were accomplished, the Spanish executed Atahualpa despite being vastly outnumbered at the time. They escaped by firing their cannons and breaking through the Incan lines. The country was left without a single ruler and was theirs for the taking. Within a relatively short time the Spanish colonists were able to firmly establish themselves in the country and to bring Ecuador under the rule of the Spanish royal family.

While it is not known exactly how much of a role Pizarro played in these events, you can be certain that he was very much involved in the establishing of that original fort and possibly even in the capture of Atahualpa. Many of the Incan people despised him while the Spaniards heralded him as their champion. How you feel about Pizarro will depend very much on how little or how much you know of him.