Undoing slanders against the colonization of America
How true are the accusations that the Church in America was complicit in the destruction of native peoples and their political, cultural, social, and ethnic annihilation?
The best answer to that is another question: Did this “destruction” really occur?
The best thing to dispel the specific accusations made by the detractors of the Church is to confront them with the facts.
I- First Accusation: The “Genocide” of Native Peoples
The Brazilian Bishop, Most Rev. Antonio Fragoso, for example, states that the European “invasion” produced “the genocide of almost all 70 million Indians here.” For its part, the “Indian Manifesto” of Quito (1986), sponsored by Catholic and Protestant bodies, alludes to the “extermination of more than 75 million of our brothers and sisters in blood and fire.” On the other hand, Father Pablo Richard says that the balance of the “genocide” was “80 million indigenous people killed;” and Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga mentions “90 million,” a figure repeated by a handful of Argentine Indians who held a noisy demonstration downtown Buenos Aires in 1992.
If that were true, the Indians would have been exterminated. Thus, the Bishop Emeritus of the Xingu, Most Rev. Erwin Kräutler, does not hesitate to say that 70 million out of a total of 90 million natives (77%) were killed. And the ex-friar Leonardo Boff reiterates that the population has fallen “from 25 to 1” (-96%), which would be “the largest genocide in history.”
Moreover, always according to these sources, this is a continuous genocide. The General Assembly of the World Council of Churches of March 1991 claims that it was perpetrated
“for 500 years.”
Besides lacking historical or scientific support, all these figures are egregiously false for two reasons:
1) The aboriginal population was much smaller than they claim (perhaps less than a fifth);
2) Its relative decrease was caused by a variety of factors completely unrelated to wars or massacres by the Spanish or Portuguese.
1. How many inhabitants did America have?
To speak of 70 to 90 million Indians killed by Europeans is the same as multiplying by three or more the figures already misrepresented, in the sixteenth century, by the black legend pioneer, Friar Bartolomeu de las Casas, whose accusations against Spain are today completely discredited. The renowned American historian Philip W. Powell demonstrates that they are nothing but “a tangle of distortions, exaggerations, and outright errors. … From this shameful imbroglio comes the incredible figure of some twenty million Indians killed by the Spanish during the Conquest …” (Powell, pp. 48-49).
Powell quotes the following calculation from another historian, Prof. John Tate Lanning: If every Spaniard who came to America (whose numbers are on the Indigenous Catalog of Passengers Embarked to India, compiled by Christopher Bermúdez Plata-2nd ed., Seville, 1946), “had killed an Indian every day of the week and three on Sundays during the fifty years immediately following the Discovery, it would have taken the passing of a generation to reach the figure attributed to him by his compatriot [Las Casas]” (Powell, p. 49). Now, since the adversaries of the Fifth Centenary of the Discovery multiply the figures of Las Casas by more than three, every Spaniard who came to America would have had to kill at least three Indians each day of the week and nine each Sunday for twenty consecutive years to be able to carry out this delirious “genocide”!
On the other hand, available data on the population of pre-Columbian America completely belies the figures imagined by the loud anti-Spanish clan.
Las Casas accused the conquerors of killing more than three million Indians in Hispaniola Island alone (cf. Powell, p. 49). Now, at best, only about 250,000 Aboriginal people lived on that island … (cf. “America Before Columbus,” US News & World Report, July 8, 1991, pp. 22-37). According to studies by demographers Verlinden and Rosemblat (cf. Cierva, chap. 33, p. 514), the population most likely ranged from a minimum of 50,000 to a maximum of 100,000.
In this regard, the historian Vicente Gay presents two eloquent data: the 16th-century census of López de Velazco records 13,500 families of Spaniards and 880,000 Indians in 1573 for the entire area subjected to Spain in South America. The census held in the Diocese of Lima (which covered all of Peru) in 1551 records the presence of 280,000 Indians (cf. Vicente Gay, Leyes del imperio español, University of Valladolid – Section of Americanist Studios, 1924, pp. 193-195, apud Sierra, El Sentido Misional, pp. 402-403 (cf. Crawford, El País, June 16, 1992, p. 6).
On the other hand, considering the Southern Cone of South America, “one takes into account the fact that, according to Serrano, and also to Rosemblat (a renowned demographer), the totality of what is today the Argentine territory had only 300,000 pre-Columbian inhabitants, so we can say that it was a huge emptiness” (Caturelli, p. 129 – emphasis in the original).
The picture is the same in the north of the continent. In 1835, the French visitor, Alexis de Tocqueville, observes: “North America was inhabited by wandering tribes who had no idea of taking advantage of the natural riches of the ground. … It was an empty continent, a desert land awaiting for inhabitants” (US News and World Report, July 8, 1991, pp. 22 ff.).
Indeed, studies by Angel Rosemblat – whom Cambridge University regards as America’s foremost authority on historical demography – indicate that by October 1492, the indigenous population of all of America was 13.3 million. And “two notable connoisseurs of the Spanish presence in the Indies,” Prof. Morales Padrón, author of a renowned History of America, and Spanish scholar Dr. Enrique Ruiz-García, advisor to the Mexican government and author of the essay today’s Latin America Today, “lean in favor of Rosemblat’s moderate and reasonable statistics” (Cierva, p. 514).
In the face of these facts, it is astonishing that even high-ranking churchmen cite completely fictitious figures without the minimum seriousness that the subject requires, making common cause with statistical terrorism of which the sole foundation is delusional fantasy.
2. The true causes of indigenous depopulation
There certainly was a decrease in the number of Aborigines after the Conquest. But none of the critics of Spain, Portugal, and even the Church ask about the true causes of this fact; they simply ascribe it to a kind of ‘exterminating binge.’
In fact, the main culprit of this decimation was a series of epidemics. In the Antilles, “the great mortality among the Indians, and previously among Spaniards, is due to an epidemic of swine flu or ‘gripe de cerdo’” (Dr. Francisco Guerra, EI Médico magazine, Madrid, Vol. 32, No. 159, in Cierva, p. 516).
Friar Toribio de Paredes Motolinia, OFM, who spares no criticism of the mistreatment of the Indians in the early years of the Conquest, reveals that in Mexico and Central America a smallpox plague was carried by a black man who came with the fleet of Pánfilo de Narváez. It spread quickly and decimated half the indigenous population. Eleven years later another epidemic broke out, this time measles – called the “little leprosy” – “with all this, many died,” “albeit to a much lesser extent than in the first epidemic” (Motolinia, OFM, p. 18).
Why is miscegenation ignored? – Another obvious cause of the decrease in the Indian population was miscegenation: “Obviously and mathematically, as Indian women bred mixed-race children, the relative number of Indians declined because the mestizos were no longer pure-blooded Indians. With ‘Lascasian’ indifference [referring to Las Casas], many writers disregard this meaningful circumstance in their conjectures about indigenous decline” (Lewis Hanke and Manuel F. Gimenez, Bartolomeu de Las Casas, 1474-1566: Bibliografia crítica y cuerpo de materiales para el estudio de su vida, escritos, actuación y polémicas que se suscitaron durante cuatro siglos, Fondo Histórico y Bibliográfico José Toribio Medina, Santiago de Chile, 1954, apud Powell, p. 230, note 33).
It is not easy to explain why they attribute the relative decline of the indigenous population to a “genocide.” They ignore the elementary fact that because of the fusion of the aboriginal race with the Iberian race, Latin America became essentially a mestizo continent, from California to Tierra del Fuego.
To this must be added wars and vices: “Today it is no mystery that the diminution of the natural peoples of America was the result of several factors, the two main ones being alcoholism and plagues.” The missionaries had to heroically carry out “the fight against alcoholism, barbarically rooted in all tribes” (Sierra, El Sentido Misional, p. 402, note 96).
3. Conclusion: there was no “genocide,” but a huge “vericide”
In short, this indigenous “genocide” is nothing but colossal extermination of the truth, a huge ‘vericide’, if one may call it that. Indeed, “can one continue to speak of genocide committed by the Spanish in America?” asks a professor from Salamanca. “The 1948 UN Convention (in Eduardo L. Gregorini, Genocídio, su prevención y represión, Buenos Aires, 1961) defines genocide as ‘the commission of criminal acts or actions expressly defined by law and perpetrated with the intention to destroy in whole or in part a human, national, ethnic, social or religious group as such.” Now then, “the Spanish Crown never wanted, programed or organized its colonial policy in any way to destroy and exterminate the peoples and races of America. … The black legend of Hispano-America is pure sophistry” (Perena, p. 192).
Excerpts from the book, The Fifth Centenary Facing the Twenty-First Century – Authentic Christendom or Tribal-Communist Revolution, pp. 46 to 50)
 The great Spanish historian Ramón Menéndez Pidal maintains that Las Casas, judging by the errors contained in his writings, was mentally imbalanced (cf. El Padre Las Casas. Su doble personalidad, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1963). Today this opinion is unanimously shared by serious scholars who have delved into this subject, such as Professor Rodolfo Jimeno of Spains’ Royal Academy of History. In his work Las Leyendas y el Padre Las Casas (Calamon Publishing House Library, Madrid, 1983) he dismantles one by one the inventions, omissions, and contradictions of the restless Dominican. The aforementioned historian quotes the testimony of many doctors and psychologists who, analyzing the work of Las Casas, conclude that the black legend pioneer was affected by a specific disease: paranoid delirium.
Professor Josep-Ignasi Saranyana, Chair of History of Theology at the University of Navarre and director of the Church History Yearbook of Pamplona, recently made known new data in support of this thesis, such as the book Confesionario, written by the controversial Dominican. In this work, Las Casas argues that confessors must presume bad faith in all participants of the Conquest because it is certain, and the confessor must know, that no Spaniard [sic] in the Indies was in good faith regarding the wars of Conquest (Saranyana, p. 65, note 27).