chapter  II
27 Pages

Vandals of History

The Conquistadores, with the qualities and the limitations of militant adventurers, smashed what they feared and seized what they desired. But the riot of destructiveness, in which the lust for gold and domination caused the economic enslavement of peoples previously organized in a stable social structure and the glory of proselytism the rape of an alien culture, did not proceed without


searchings of the national conscience. The Spanish of the sixteenth century derived from their own historical background an eminent addiction to legalism and religiosity. From the beginning of their adventure in the New World the rights of the conquered natives to their liberty and their possessions were debated and the question of their natural right to be considered as human beings was decided in their favour by the Congregation of Valladolid under the combined influences of Francisco Vitoria and Bartolomé de Las Casas. On this basis, and because the Spanish Crown saw that a too ruthless exploitation was in danger of becoming wasteful and uneconomic for the future value of the Colony, a legal system of colonial administration was drawn up which has been rightly pointed to as both enlightened and moderate. The interests of the men on the spot were, however, not by any means on all fours with the interests of the Crown and the get-rich-quick policy of the former had more practical influence than the wiser policy of long-term exploitation which governed the Council of the Indies. As is not uncommon in the history of human affairs, principle and practice remained at variance and despite repeated royal ordinances designed to prevent the enslavement and subsequent annihilation of the native races, their exploitation followed as ruthlessly from economic convenience as though their rights had not been ventilated in principle. This is why a good case can be put up both by historians like Salvador de Madariaga who defend the enlightened moderation of the Spanish colonial system and by those who condemn the destructive oppressiveness of their regime.