Chapter VI – The Conquest

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Returning to Spain, the Catholic Monarchs welcomed the Admiral in Barcelona with pump and circumstance. It was the most exciting moment of his life, his critics were defeated and his prophesies justified. He possessed all the titles and honors that a man of his time could wish for.

Assuring the court that he had found the route to Cipango, he asked for resources to establish a base of operations in the Hispaniola from which to establish contact with the Great Khan and other oriental monarchs. There they would also start exploiting the gold mines that they would locate in the next expedition. Commerce would flourish and Christopher Columbus would take the message of Christ to the foreign lands.

As soon as they found out about Columbus' arrival, the Monarchs solicited from the Pope the exclusive rights to the discovered lands the same way that the Portuguese had done with their properties in Africa. This way, Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter Caetera on June 4th, 1493, which stipulated that the Castilian crown had control over the pagan lands found west of an imaginary line from pole to pole that began 100 leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde. After protests from the Portuguese monarchy, the same rights were ceded to Portugal for discoveries east of the dividing line.

On September 25th of 1493 Christopher Columbus was leaving again for America with a fleet of 17 vessels, all the rights and titles as Admiral governing the Indies, maximum authority with the power to establish a colony. This second expedition would be equally military and in great measure, evangelical.

Between 1,200 and 1,500 men and some women navigated in the important crew, which was heading to the Indies to stay, Spain was sending farmers, carpenters, builders, and cattle ranchers with tools, seeds and the necessary beasts to begin a settlement. There was equally, an important military contingent of cavalry and infantry under the command of very experience captains, such as the Catalan Pedro Margarit, Alonso de Ojeda, and the future discoverer of Puerto Rico and Florida, Juan Ponce de Leon. Under their orders were the brave noblemen and adventurers that saw in the Indies a continuation of the Reconquest.

Also in the expedition, stood out Dr. Pedro Alvarez Chanca, introducer of European medicine in the new world, the Italian Michele de Cuneo, personal friend of Columbus, and of Juan de la Cosa, one of the most notable cosmographers of the Renaissance.

The evangelization of the Indians was lead by friar Bernardo Boyl or Buil, of Catalan origins, and who would be the first vicar general of the Indies, in charge of nine Franciscans, three Mercedarians and of friar Ramon Pane, that, without realizing it yet, would be the first ethnographer of the American cultures.

The trip was relatively easy and fast; navigating by the Lesser Antilles where they encountered the Caribs, heading north until reaching the La Navidad fort on November 27th.

The explorers found the fort dismantled and burned, with some cadavers that the Indians attributed to an attack by cacique Caonabo who lived in the center of the island, which actually happened having with the backing of Guacanagari and his men who, apparently, could not tolerate the abuses on their women and belongings by the Castilians.

Guacanagari denied having anything to do with the attack. Columbus found him lying on a hammock, supposedly wounded during the attack. Very hurt, the Admiral discovered that the Indians would not maintain an unconditional submissive position with which he counted to the realization of his colonizing project