Columbus exposed as iron-fisted tyrant who tortured his slaves
By Graham Keeley in Barcelona
Independent" -- -- Christopher Columbus was a despot who ruled his
subjects with an iron fist, according to documents which have
emerged 500 years after his death.
The man who discovered America for Europe routinely tortured slaves
and starved his subjects in colonies on the Caribbean island of
Columbus was known to have mistreated native people when he was
viceroy in Santo Domingo, the capital of today's Dominican Republic,
at the end of the 15th century. But until now it had been put down
to his lack of political sensitivity.
The documents suggest a hidden face to the man who, after arriving
in the Caribbean in 1492, fell from grace eight years later because
of his conduct in Santo Domingo. In 1500, Columbus was brought back
from the city as a prisoner on the orders of the Spanish monarchs,
Ferdinand and Isabella, to stand trial.
Statements from 23 witnesses at his trial were uncovered at the
archive of Simanacas, near Valladolid, by an archivist, Isabel
Aguirre, who spent a year transcribing them.
Consuelo Varela, a historian in Seville, has studied the documents
and believes it is the most important discovery about Columbus's
life for a century. Her research, which appears in La Caida de
Cristobal Colon (The Fall of Christopher Columbus), reveals the
brutal life in the first colony which Columbus set up.
Varela told the Spanish daily El Pais: "Life in the colony in these
first seven years was hard and terrible. There was a great deal of
hunger, envy, rancour and rumours of all sorts. It was a primitive,
insular life, rather like what we see in Western films."She said
people, including white Spanish slaves, were auctioned in the main
square of Santo Domingo. "We hear of a poor boy who was caught
stealing wheat grain. They cut off his ears and nose and put
shackles on him and made him a slave. Columbus ran the colony with
an iron fist.
"One woman happened to say that Columbus came from a working-class
family and that his father had been a weaver. Columbus's brother
Bartholme had her tongue cut out, after parading her naked through
the streets on a donkey. Christopher congratulated his brother on
defending the family honour."
There were many attempts at mutiny in the colony, she said.
The 46-page document shows Columbus and his brothers Bartolme and
Diego as tyrants who ruled through summary justice. They also
forbade natives from baptism so they could used as slaves. Varela
said the documents showed Columbus's "immense greed". He was
eventually arrested, tried and dismissed as viceroy of Santo Domingo
and governor of the Indies.
"Now we know why he was removed from office and the good reasons for
it," she said. "Nobody likes to air dirty laundry, but this is what
the document shows."
The exposure has already provoked an angry reaction. Critics say
some of the accounts may have come from enemies of Columbus, who
were out to damage his reputation. But other accounts come from
members of his own close group, even trusted friends. "Even they
told of the atrocities that happened," said Varela. "Columbus's
government was tyrannical, with no trials or anything similar."
The revelations come as the world marks the 500th anniversary of
Columbus' death in 1506. DNA investigations on his descendants are
under way in several countries finally to pinpoint the explorer's
birthplace, usually attributed to Genoa in Italy. A result is
expected later this year.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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