New information on Columbus discovered
Columbus exposed as cruel tyrant who tortured his
Source: The Independent (7-21-06)
Christopher Columbus was a despot who ruled his
subjects with an iron fist, according to documents
that 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 Hispaniola.
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.
Ms Varela told ElPais: "Life in the colony in these
first seven years was hard and terrible: a great deal
of hunger, envy, rancour and rumours of all sorts. It
was a primitive, insular life, 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
The 46-page document shows Columbus and his brothers
Bar-tolme and Diego as tyrants who ruled through
summary justice. They also forbade natives from
baptism so they could used as slaves. Ms 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
Ms 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.
Posted on Friday, July 21, 2006 at 5:07 PM