Saturday, June 03, 2006

Destruction of the Indies: PART TWO

Another chilling excerpt from Bartolome de las Casas' book, "A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies."

Nicaragua: 1542.

"The most insidious pestilence dreamed up by this governor (Pedrarias Davila) was the system by whereby he granted licences to Spaniards to demand slaves from native caciques and nobles. This development has done more to ravage that country than anything else. Demands for fifty slaves at a time were made every four or five months or whenever an individual obtained permission and a licence from the governor to make such a demand. The demand was always accompanied by the threat that, if the requisite number of slaves was not produced, the noble concerned would be burned alive or thrown to wild dogs.
Since slavery is practically unknown amoung the local population, even their caciques having the most two or three or four of them, the lords themselves would have to find the slaves. At first they might round up all the orphans they could find; then they might ask any family with two children to surrender one, and a family with three to produce two, thereby fulfilling the demands made of them by the tyrant in their midst. But they did so against a background of wailing and gnashing teeth, for these people appear to entertain a love for their children which surpasses that of any other people in the world.
Since the demands of this nature were so frequent, the whole region was devastated within the space of a few years, for during six or seven of the years between 1523 and 1533 five or six slaving vessels patrolled the coast and carted off vast numbers of these innocents to be sold in Panama and Peru, where they all perished. Indeed, experience shows time and time again that these people die very quickly once you remove them from their native lands, especially as they often are forced to go without food while still being made to do a full day's work, those who buy and sell them having no other thought in their heads but the work these slaves can be forced to undertake.
In this fashion, more than five hundred thousand souls, each of them as free as you or me, (Legally, all Amerindians were subjects of the Crown of Castile and enjoyed equal rights with all other subjects of the Crown. Making war on Amerindians, said theologian Francisco de Vitoria, was like making war on the inhabitants of Seville) have been taken from their homelands. On top of that, a further five or six hundred thousand have so far been killed, either during the course of hellish fighting initiated by the Spanish or as a direct result of the horrendous conditions in which they have been imprisoned. And the carnage continues to this day. All this devastation has taken place over the past fourteen years, and in the whole of the providence of Nicaragua today, once (as I have said) among the most densely populated place on the face of the earth, there remain only four or five thousand people and every day sees even some of these succumb to the work they are made to do, and the personal abuses to which they are subjected every day of their lives.

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