By William Astore, retired Air Force Lieutenant, who discusses America’s peculiar brand of global imperialism. He mentions in Afghanistan and elsewhere the U.S. is suffering from Imperial Tourism Syndrome. Published: October 28, 2015 | Authors: William Astore | TomDispatch | Op-Ed
Christopher Columbus has been presented to many children in our schools as a brave explorer who "discovered" America, as if those indigenous natives on the Caribbean Island in the Bahama's, called the Taino, had no history or culture of their own. Many American cities have re-evaluated Columbus Day and replaced it with Indigenous People's Day as more appropriate when the true history of exploitation, enslavement, and torture unfolded. The native Taino people of the island were systematically enslaved via the encomienda system implemented by Columbus, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe.
Disease played a significant role in the destruction of the natives; however there is no record of any massive smallpox epidemic in the Antilles until 25 years after the arrival of Columbus. The truth is the natives' numbers declined due to extreme overwork, other diseases, and a loss of will to live after the destruction of their culture by the invaders. When the first pandemic finally struck in 1519 it wiped out much of the remaining native population. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, fewer than five hundred Taino were left on the island.
Columbus' treatment of the Hispaniola natives was even worse as his soldiers raped, killed, and enslaved them with impunity at every landing. When Columbus fell ill in 1495, soldiers were reported to have gone on a rampage, slaughtering 50,000 natives. Upon his recovery, Columbus organized his troops' efforts, forming a squadron of several hundred heavily armed men and more than twenty attack dogs. The men tore across the land, killing thousands of sick and unarmed natives. Soldiers would use their captives for sword practice, attempting to decapitate them or cut them in half with a single blow.
Howard Zinn writes that Columbus spearheaded a massive slave trade. For example, in 1495 his men captured in a single raid 1500 Arawak men, women, and children. When he shipped five hundred of the slaves to Spain, 40% died en route. Historian James W. Loewen asserts "Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves – about five thousand – than any other individual... other nations rushed to emulate Columbus." When slaves held in captivity began to die at high rates, Columbus switched to a different system of forced labor. He ordered all natives over the age of thirteen to collect a specified amount (one hawk's bell full) of gold powder every three months. Natives who brought the amount were given a copper token to hang around their necks, and those found without tokens had their hands amputated and were left to bleed to death.
The Arawaks attempted to fight back against Columbus's men but lacked their armor, guns, swords, and horses. When taken prisoner, they were hanged or burned to death. Desperation led to mass suicides and infanticide among the natives. In just two years under Columbus' governorship more than half of the 250,000 Arawaks in Haiti were dead.The main cause for the depopulation was disease followed by other causes such as warfare and harsh enslavement.
Samuel Eliot Morison, a Harvard historian and author of a multi-volume biography on Columbus writes, "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide." Loewen laments that while "Haiti under the Spanish is one of the primary instances of genocide in all human history", only one major history text he reviewed mentions Columbus' role in it.There is evidence that the men of the first voyage also brought syphilis from the New World to Europe. Many of the crew members who served on this voyage later joined the army of King Charles VIII in his invasion of Italy in 1495. After the victory, Charles' largely mercenary army returned to their respective homes, thereby spreading "the Great Pox" across Europe and triggering the deaths of more than five million people.
Columbus was involved heavily in the Sex Slave business. On his way back to Spain to stand trial for accusations of abuse of Spaniard colonists, he wrote a letter to the nurse of the son of Ferdinand and Isabella, pleading his case. Among it he wrote:
"Now that so much gold is found, a dispute arises as to which brings more profit, whether to go about robbing or to go to the mines. A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid."
No wonder after learning of these revelations many cities have changed Columbus Day into Indigenous People's Day.The idea of replacing Columbus Day with a day celebrating the indigenous people of North America first arose in 1977 from the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. At the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in July 1990, representatives of Indian groups throughout the Americas agreed that they would mark 1992, the 500th anniversary of the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, as a day to promote "continental unity" and "liberation."
After the conference, attendees from Northern California organized to plan protests against the "Quincentennial Jubilee" that had been organized by the United States Congress for the San Francisco Bay Area on Columbus Day, 1992, to include, among other things, sailing replicas of Columbus' ships under the Golden Gate Bridge and reenacting their "discovery" of America. The delegates formed the Bay Area Indian Alliance, and, in turn, the "Resistance 500" task force,which advocated the notion that Columbus was responsible for genocide of indigenous people.
In 1992, the group convinced the city council of Berkeley, California, to declare October 12, a "Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People", and 1992 the "Year of Indigenous People", and to implement related programs in schools, libraries, and museums. The city symbolically renamed Columbus Day to "Indigenous Peoples' Day" beginning in 1992 to protest the historical conquest of North America by Europeans, and to call attention to the demise of Native American people and culture through disease, warfare, massacre, and forced assimilation. Performances were scheduled that day for Get Lost (Again) Columbus, an opera by a Native-American composer. Berkeley has celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day ever since.Beginning in 1993, Berkeley has held an annual pow wow and festival on the day
In the years after Berkeley's move, other local governments and institutions have either renamed or canceled Columbus Day, either to celebrate Native Americans, to avoid celebrating actions of Columbus that led to the colonization of America by Spanish conquistadors, or due to controversy over the legacy of Columbus.Two other California cities, Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, now celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day.