the rights of the native americans -- 4/27/21
Today's selection -- from River of Darkness by Buddy Levy. After it discovered the New World, Spain was torn between its pursuit of wealth and the morality of its treatment of Native Americans:
"[Soon came] the imposition, begun on November 20, 1542 of the so-called New Laws, signed by Charles I of Spain as the revised code of colonial government. These New Laws, spurred by the writings of Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, would have a direct impact on all encomienda holders in the New World, including Gonzalo Pizarro.
"Las Casas, who arrived in Hispaniola in 1502 and would come to be referred to as 'the Apostle of the Indians,' was a Spanish priest (the first, in fact, to be ordained in the New World) and writer who lived and traveled throughout the West Indies during its initial conquest. Witnessing the atrocities perpetrated on the indigenous people and believing that they could be converted by more peaceful and humanitarian means, he became an ardent defender of their rights and improved treatment. By 1542 he had been back to Spain a half-dozen times, reporting to the crown on the situation in the Indies, and because of his standing and reputation, he had garnered a great deal of respect from and influence on the king.
"The New Laws that Las Casas urged were drastic, even radical, and among those holding encomiendas (like Gonzalo Pizarro), the laws were as unpopular as they were initially unenforceable. The laws called for no further exploitation of native peoples, the release of slaves, and no 'branding of Indians under any pretext, as prisoners of war or otherwise.' The Indians -- on the islands as well as the mainland -- were declared subjects rather than vassals of the king, guaranteeing them the same rights (on paper, anyway) as those held by their previous owners. And they went further: they outlawed the granting of any new encomiendas under any circumstances, and perhaps most important and progressive was the provision that settlers who could establish legal title to their encomiendas could retain them, but not transmit them by inheritance the title would revert to the crown upon the death of the original grantee, potentially leaving a landholder's family homeless, penniless, and without a workforce. The implications for colonists like Gonzalo Pizarro and many of his companions were profound. If carried out, the New Laws would completely eradicate the entire encomienda system and eliminate the Indian as a source of nearly free labor -- the very system on which much of the colonists' wealth relied.
"To attempt to enforce these New Laws, the king needed emissaries in Peru, and to spearhead this cause he settled on Viceroy Don Blasco Nunez Vela, a haughty, well-bred cavalier whose egocentric overzealousness would soon precipitate more years of bloody civil strife. He, along with four judges, sailed for Peru. Nunez Vela arrived in early March 1544, charged with enforcing the controversial New Laws to the letter.
"But by now, opposition among the Peruvian colonists had galvanized and become widespread, and it was Gonzalo Pizarro who came out of forced retirement at his mining properties near La Plata and assumed the mantle of leadership in the rebellion against these New Laws. He took the position, urged by some of his faithful men and other encomenderos, with proud defiance. He had, after all, more than a decade before won this land for Spain with his brothers on the fields of Cajamarca. He would not relinquish his spoils without a fight, and he would gather arms and men in their defense. He wrote to fellow military commanders who had agreed to take his side, reminding them '[Spain wishes] to enjoy what we sweated for, and with clean hands benefit from what we [have given] our blood to obtain. But now that they have revealed their intentions, I promise to show them ... that we are men who can defend their own.'
"Viceroy Vela, however, was equally headstrong, and no sooner had he arrived than he burst into bold, if rash, action. He immediately imprisoned Governor Vaca, whom he felt was not doing enough to quell resistance, placing him on a ship to await a formal residencia."