Front Door to Cuba

Bartolomé De Las Casas

Drawing from book by de las Casas

Father Bartolomé De Las Casas is remembered as a critic of Spanish colonialism in the new world, and as the "protector" of the natives who were in the Americas in the early 1500s.

De Las Casas was born in Seville in 1474, studied law at Salamanca, and came to the new world in 1502 in search of fortune and success. At the age of thirty-six (in 1510) he became a priest, although he continued his business ventures until 1514, when he gave up his properties and spent the next fifty-two years opposing the brutal methods of colonization.

In 1542 De Las Casas wrote "A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies," in which he vividly documented the atrocities inflicted on America's indigenous population. The manuscript was not published until 1552, and remains in print to this day.

It should be noted that De Las Casas was a slave-owner in Cuba before he gave up his holdings in 1524, and he never opposed the colonization of America, but merely disagreed with the brutality of the methods used. He accused the monarchy of "endless crimes" against the "Indians who were the king's subjects."

As he saw it, the church authorized the Spanish monarchs to convert the indigenous people to Christianity, and to exercise spiritual authority over them. De Las Casas believed that Columbus had been chosen by God to bring the Gospel to the new world. This could and should be done peacefully, avoiding the genocidal colonization that ensued.

On two separate occasions De Las Casas attempted peaceful colonization. The first time was in 1520, in Cumaná, Venezuela. The second one was in 1545 in Verapaz (True Peace), in Honduras. Both colonies failed. Las Casas died in 1566, at the age of 92.

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