Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Columbus Day 3

   No more Mr. Nice Guy, Columbus turned the peaceful indigenous communities he came across into forced labor camps, demanding gold and sexual freedom with their women for his men. He would routinely have the ears and noses of those who refused cut off and send the natives back to their villages as a warning against disobedience. The natives soon rebelled. Who could blame them? I would do the same thing. But there existed a distinct difference in the level of technology between the native population and that of the Europeans, most notably in weapons. The natives had rocks, spears, sometimes, slings and arrows... all that up against the muskets, cannon, and swords of the Europeans. It would be like our modern United States military, the most advanced on the planet, going up against a civilization that had mastered inter-stellar travel. Despite “Independence Day,” we wouldn’t stand a chance. Think our microorganisms that we’re immune to will knock the invaders off as in “War of the Worlds”? They would have thought of that. As a matter of fact, if I were them, I wouldn’t even engage our armed forces. I’d either bomb from orbit, or release a alien pathogen engineered to kill all life on the planet.
   The Tainos had no chance at all.
   For further examination about the differences of technology in different societies and how they arose I recommend Dr. Jared Diamond’s, “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”
   The Europeans had another weapon at hand that the Taínos did not, cruelty. Columbus’s men routinely fed them to hunting dogs while they were still alive, and those that fled into the mountains would be hunted down for sport. 
   Following his first voyage, Columbus was appointed Viceroy and Governor of the Indies under the terms of the Capitulations of Santa Fe. He enjoyed absolute authority and power.
   He set up a kind of tribute system in his continued quest for gold, wherein the natives were given a set amount to deliver to him each month, and if that quota was met they would be given a necklace that gave them immunity from punishment... for a little while. If the quota was not met their hands would be cut off and a necklace made out of them.
   Columbus began rewarding his officers with native women, especially young girls who had been forced into sexual slavery. In a letter to a friend, he wrote about how girls between the ages of 9 and 10 could be used as currency. 
   “A hundred castellanoes [equal to 485,000  maravedís] are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it’s very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are currently in demand.”   
   Granted the age of consent was a lot lower in those days (Juliet was 13 when the events of “Romeo and Juliet” took place in 1303), but consent implies freedom of choice... and 9 to 10 years old, I mean really.
   Columbus had been ill since the first voyage, suffering from a form of  arthritis, and inflammation of the eyes. By the end of his third voyage he had only gotten worse, and  sent two ships back to Spain asking the Court to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern. 
   Upon returning to Hispaniola from a voyage to South America on August 19, 1498, many of his own settlers were in open rebellion against him, claiming he had misled them about  the plentiful riches to be found in the New World. Columbus had several of his own crew members hanged as an example to the others what the price was for disobedience. 
   By that time accusations of the cruelty he utilized to govern and harvest gold had made their way back to Spain, and per Columbus’s own request, the Spanish courts appointed Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava (a Papal endorsed militia); as the Viceroy and governor of the Indies, giving him total control from 1500 on. This was not what Columbus had in mind.
   Arriving in Santo Domingo while Columbus was away, Bobadilla immediately received many serious complaints about all three Columbus brothers: Christopher, Bartolomé, and Diego. 
   As a result of these testimonies and without being allowed a word in his own defense, Columbus upon his return, was placed in manacles and cast into prison to await return to Spain. He was 53 years old.
   The testimonies of 23 people who had seen or heard about the treatment meted out by Columbus and his brothers—had originally been lost for centuries, but was rediscovered in 2005 in the Spanish archives in Valladolid, the capital city of the Province of Valladolid, an  autonomous region of Castile and León in north-western Spain.  
   The larger picture of the atrocities committed by Columbus is atrociously break taking: 
   "Columbus's government was characterised by a form of tyranny," Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian who has seen the document, told journalists. "Even those who loved him had to admit the atrocities that had taken place."
    The priest Bartolomé de las Casas, son of the merchant Pedro de las Casas who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, described Columbus's treatment of the natives in his “History of the Indies.”
   “Endless testimonies...prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives... But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then... The admiral (Columbus), it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians.”
   Casas described how Columbus had enslaved the natives of Hispaniola who were forced in brutal mining and farming camps. According to him up to a third of the male slaves died during each six- to eight-month mining operation. The mines were many miles away from the farms, and the enslaved men and the women only saw each other every eight to ten months. 
   “Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides. . . they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation.... In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile ... was depopulated.... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.... there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it...."
   The native population “disappeared so rapidly after contact with the Spanish, because of overwork and especially, after 1519, when the first pandemic struck Hispaniola, because of European diseases. Some estimates indicate case fatality rates of 80–90% in Native American populations during smallpox epidemics. The native Taino people of the island were systematically enslaved via the encomienda system, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe. The pre-Columbian population is estimated to have been perhaps 250,000–300,000. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, fewer than five hundred Taino were left on the island." -Wikipedia
   What goes around comes around, I suppose.
   “There is evidence that the men of the first voyage also brought syphilis from the New World to Europe. Many of the crew members who served on this voyage later joined the army of King Charles VIII in his invasion of Italy in 1495. After the victory, Charles' largely mercenary army returned to their respective homes, thereby spreading "the Great Pox" across Europe and triggering the deaths of more than five million people.” -Wikipedia
   This exchange of diseases was more than likely inevitable after any significant meeting between the two cultures at that time. 
   But war was not. Slavery was not.
   Not only was Columbus responsible for enslaving natives from the Americas. He is probably responsible for the rise of the African slave trade as well. 
   Having depopulated Hispaniola through forced labor and deportation of slaves, Columbus just brought in other natives from nearby islands and lands to take their place. He also sent large numbers of these people to Europe as slaves as well, thus beginning the pattern of transatlantic slave trade. Others followed his suit, shipping natives from various parts of north America both to Europe and to the Caribbean. But so many of these people died that the Spanish turned to Africa as their new source for slaves, reversing the direction of human traffic across the Atlantic. The first Africa-to-Caribbean slave trade was carried out by none other than Columbus's own son, in 1505, only twelve years from the founding of Columbus' colony, and thus a precedent was put into place, one that would last several hundred years.
   On October 1st, 1500 Columbus and his brothers were sent back to Spain and it’s courts, He wrote this concerning the circumstances he found himself in:
   “It is now seventeen years since I came to serve these princes with the Enterprise of the Indies. They made me pass eight of them in discussion, and at the end rejected it as a thing of jest. Nevertheless I persisted therein ... Over there I have placed under their sovereignty more land than there is in Africa and Europe, and more than 1,700 islands ... In seven years I, by the divine will, made that conquest. At a time when I was entitled to expect rewards and retirement, I was incontinently arrested and sent home loaded with chains ... The accusation was brought out of malice on the basis of charges made by civilians who had revolted and wished to take possession on the land ...
   I beg your graces, with the zeal of faithful Christians in whom their Highnesses have confidence, to read all my papers, and to consider how I, who came from so far to serve these princes ... now at the end of my days have been despoiled of my honor and my property without cause, wherein is neither justice nor mercy.”
   He stayed imprisoned for 6 weeks before the King had him released, and not long after he was granted an audience with his former benefactors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who heard his side of the story. 
   He was given back his freedom and wealth, and after considerable discussion was granted the funds to pursue a 4th voyage, but with no gubernatorial powers whatsoever. The voyage’s aim was to find a passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian. Columbus still believed the “New World” was the East Indies, and that the next ocean over was the Indian Ocean. Of course we know today he had the whole of the Pacific in his way.
   What he did manage to find during his 4th voyage was the Belén River in what would become Panama, and where in the future (1914) a passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific would be built. Hearing rumors there were gold mines up this river Columbus built a garrison there before being chased away by the local natives. And after being marooned on Jamaica for a year, he returned to Spain, arriving on the 7th of November, 1504, never to return. 
    “It seems likely that [Columbus] acquired reactive arthritis from food poisoning on one of his ocean voyages because of poor sanitation and improper food preparation,” writes Dr. Frank C. Arnett, a rheumatologist and professor of internal medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. He also suffered from severe gout, and possibly certain sexually transmitted diseases (primarily chlamydia or gonorrhea).  
   He died in Valladolid, Spain, on May 20th, 1506 (photograph above). 
   The persecution of native Americans did not stop with the death of Christopher Columbus, and in a way it very much continues to this day
   That declaration from the Pope, dividing the new lands between Spain and Portugal had dire consequences for native inhabitants of the Americas. Beginning in 1514 Spanish soldiers adopted "the Requirement," an ultimatum in which the natives were forced to accept "the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world" or face persecution. If they did not immediately comply, the Requirement warned them:
   "We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do all the harm and damage that we can." 
   Often the Requirement was read to the native inhabitants without translation, or in some cases even from ships before crew members landed to kill them and take slaves. 
   All in the name of the church founded in the name of Jesus Christ.
   I guess it makes it a little easier to rape, kill, and enslave others when God’s got you back.
    Another Spaniard, Francisco Pizarro, with the help of the smallpox virus, decimated the once great Inca Empire. Hernán Cortés did the same with the Aztecs. Or own nation, in it’s infancy, slaughtered and displaced native American tribes to make way for westward expansion. One of the missions of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804, under President Thomas Jefferson, was to search out these inhabitants and let them know that they were now under the command of a nation to the east that they had never seen or heard of. 
   So why is it that Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, and South Dakota do not celebrate Columbus Day at all, and the California is contemplating non-observance as well? 
   Good question! Glad you asked.
   Many were worried that the day was being used to promote one religion above all others, namely Catholicism. It was pitched to FDR by the Knights of Columbus remember, a very strident Catholic organization. 
   Some were worried that the day was being used to promote Italians, and nobody wanted that (except Italians)!
   But the majority of opposition stems from Columbus's actions against the indigenous populations of the Americas, much of which has entered the mainstream. With scholars asserting that the explorer brought racism, slavery, and disease to the Americas, many feel it's completely inadequate, if not entirely wrong to celebrate the man. 
   Columbus Day, they say, is kind of like Hitler Appreciation Day. It’s just not appropriate. I would tend to agree. Columbus, although perhaps trapped in a more, brutal time, was still a human monster. I can easily think of people who are much more deserving of having a national holiday named after them, my sister Cheryl for instance, or my lovely ex-case manager Erin, or some others that can be found right  here
    South Dakota celebrates the day as an official state holiday known as "Native American Day" rather than Columbus Day. Hawaii celebrates Discoverers' Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii on the second Monday of October, although not as an official state holiday.  
   We here in California still celebrate the day, but it’s not an official state holiday, with state offices still open for business, with only federal offices and some businesses like banks, taking the day off. 
   There are movements though to end it being celebrated at all. I happen to be the leader of one such movement and I would speak of it if it were not double super secret. 
   So why now? What recently has changed that makes the atrocities of Columbus more in the public’s awareness than before?
   Beats me. Perhaps it is the continuing objections by our contemporary native Americans, both in Latin America, and here in the United States, that is slowly raising the awareness of the rest of us, as it did for yours truly.  
   Why does the United States government still persist in continuing the celebration of this now infamous individual? Beats me. Momentum probably. Most of the modern evidence we now have that condemns Columbus was not available to FDR, so he made it a holiday. Why not? He had nothing to lose. 
   Just like Obamacare, once an institution is put into place it is very hard to get rid of. Our leadership would have to admit that one of our greatest presidents was in error when he made it a holiday. The federal government would have to begin paying federal employees every second Monday in October. Think of all of the calendars that would have to be changed if Columbus Day was no longer observed. 
   This is why we still maintain a huge nuclear arsenal at great expense, even though that arsenal has no current targets. It is why we maintain a “Cold War” strength military, even though there is no longer a “Cold War.” And that is why our nation has a propensity to go to war, to use that military. 
   Once you have these behemoths, they’re awfully difficult to get rid of, or at least it seems to be for us. 
   But most of all, Columbus Day seems to be very popular with certain segments of the population, as popular as it is now unpopular with others.  
   But as long as the United States government continues to sponsor this holiday, if you will, it is practicing a form of historical revisionism. 
   You know of course what historical revisionism is. As George Orwell famously stated in his masterpiece, “1984,” “If you control the present, you control the past. If you control the past, you control the future.”
   If you control the present as our leaders do today, or other entities, then you can control the past by revising it. You can actually change the past. 
   Many today say there was no holocaust in the past. If you erase the holocaust from the past, then millions of Jews, Polish people, and Russians never died under Hitler. If millions didn’t die during the holocaust, then it’s probably alright to resurrect ideas of racial superiority, hatred, and out of control nationalism in the future. 
   You see that picture of  Joseph Stalin above walking next to Nikolai Yezhov. Everybody remembers Nikolai right? 
   Well probably not. Although he was once a very powerful person within the Soviet Union. He was the chairman of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD who conducted the Great Purge in the 1930s (according to the declassified Soviet archives, during 1937 and 1938, the NKVD detained 1,548,366 victims, of whom 681,692 were shot - an average of 1,000 executions a day), despite looking like a 13 year old. In 1940 he fell out of favor with Stalin, and became a victim of his own organization. He was arrested, confessed under torture to a range of anti-Soviet activity, and was executed.
   Well that photo above had been widely circulated, but it would not do to have a standing photograph of the great leader walking next to a confessed traitor. So he was erased. Both literally and figuratively. He was taken out of the official photograph. The Soviet government proclaimed that walk had never taken place. If you happened to own a photograph of them walking then you had better get rid of it or you may suffer the same fate as Nikolai, because the Soviet government didn’t mind killing it’s own people at all back then.  
   If all of the photos of Stalin walking with Yezhov had been erased then the future would have changed in that for all intents and purposes Yezhov had never existed. 
   Another example. Many on the religious right continue to maintain the founding fathers intended that our nation was founded on Christian principles, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They site instances, quotes, and documents, from the past and taken out of context in order to maintain the fallacy that our nation should be modeled after Christian principles today, and therefore on into the future (curiously they never state what Christian principles in particular, just in vague terms, and those which usually condemn abortion and birth control). Read about it here.
   The Iranians censored our First Lady’s Oscar night dress during the last Academy Awards ceremony. Already pissed that the film “Argo” had won for Best Picture, the Iranian media, prompted by the Iranian government, thought Michelle Obama’s dress a little to racy for their delicate sensibilities, so they erased her bare shoulders and brought up that neckline to suit their tastes, and a good thing too, as we wouldn’t want a whole bunch of mullahs hopping around all aroused by our president’s wife. My goodness no.       
   If we keep celebrating Columbus Day we are in fact negating his actual atrocities. And we should’t do that. 
   One last example of historical revisionism. 
   Is that really me standing in the little garden we have here in the back of the hotel? Huumm, is it? Look at the picture below it and you’ll see I’m not there.
   Was I ever? Do I exist? Are you really reading this right now? 
   You tell me the next time we meet.

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