Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bartolomé De Las Casas

Here is a very interesting and controversial historical figure.

If you look him up online, you will find him championed as Defender of the Oppressed, the father of liberation theology, of anti-imperialism and anti-racism, and he is celebrated with statues and on stamps as a symbol of justice and human rights in Latin America. However, he is also credited by some as the instigator of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. While he fought against the enslavement of the native Americans, he proposed instead the importation of Africans. The following is by Fernando Alberto Rivera Saad. Read the complete article here.

Las Casas, a sixteenth century Spanish historian and Dominican missionary, is considered by many as the first person to expose and call for the abolition of the Spanish enslavement of the Indians in America. For almost sixty years, Las Casas confronted statesmen, potent churchmen, mighty kings, powerful encomenderos, and many others in his search for a better treatment for the Indians in America. During all this time, Las Casas was constantly writing books, letters, and treatises that tried to expose the cruelties that the Spaniards were unfairly inflicting to the Indians. That is the reason why history has called him the “the authentic expression of the true Spanish conscience” and the “Apostle of the Indians.”

However, Las Casas is a contradictory and complex individual. His overly inflamed accusations, writings, and actions were both helpful and harmful for the Indians. On one hand, he benefited the Indians by influencing King Charles and the Council of the Indies to act in favor of the Indians on many occasions. On the other hand, Las Casas was unsupportive and even detrimental to the possibility of future fairness between races in the Americas because he supported the use of black slaves in the New World and because he owned slaves when he had an encomienda. He defended some against oppression by asking for others to be oppressed.

After his request for slaves in 1543, Bartolomé de Las Casas began to repent for the blindness in which he had been when he requested the shipment of black slaves. It was around that time that he visited Lisbon and found out what was going on in Africa in respect to the manner in which Africans were being captured and enslaved. Las Casas now saw the injustice of black slavery and started writing about it. He was now convinced that the enslavement of blacks was as unfair as that of the Indians; this was reflected in his writings when he used the same terms to speak about both groups of people. Las Casas fiercely denounces the Portuguese, who had been using the European war against Islam as a way to conceal their lucrative trade of innocent Africans that were being captured on the Guinea coast. Las Casas thus became the first person of his time and the only one of his century to denounce the slavery of Africans and the cruelty and immorality of the traffic of slaves. After analyzing the unfairness of slavery, he deeply repents for his past actions and suggestions.

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