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Enemy for USA

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Christopher Columbus







Columbus’s signature                                        Columbus’s ships flag

After five centuries, Columbus remains a mysterious and controversial figure who has been variously described as one of the greatest mariners in history, a visionary genius, a mystic, a national hero, a failed administrator, a native entrepreneur, and a ruthless and greedy imperialist.

Columbus’s enterprise to find a westward route to Asia grew out of the practical experience of a long and varied maritime career, as well as out of his considerable reading in geographical and theological literature. He settled for a time in Portugal, where he tried unsuccessfully to enlist support for his project, before moving to Spain. After many difficulties, through a combination of good luck and persuasiveness, he gained the support of the Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Fernando.

The widely published report of his voyage of 1492 made Columbus famous throughout Europe and secured for him the title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and further royal patronage. Columbus, who never abandoned the belief that he had reached Asia, led three more expeditions to the Caribbean. But intrigue and his own administrative failings brought disappointment and political obscurity to his final years.




  1. Columbus. The date and the name provoke many questions related to the linking of very different parts of the world, the Western Hemisphere and the Mediterranean. What was life like in those areas before 1492? What spurred European expansion? How did European, African and American peoples react to each other? What were some of the immediate results of these contacts?

1492: VOYAGE addresses such questions by examining the rich mixture of societies coexisting in five areas of this hemisphere before European arrival. It then surveys the polyglot Mediterranean world at a dynamic turning point in its development.

Contacts between American people and European explorers, conquerors and settlers from 1492 to 1600 changed life on both sides of the Atlantic. During this period, in the wake of Columbus’s voyages, Africans also arrived in the hemisphere, usually as slaves. All of these encounters, some brutal and traumatic, others more gradual, irreversibly changed the way in which peoples in the Americas led their lives.

The dramatic events following 1492 set the stage for numerous cultural interactions in the Americas, which are still in progress – a complex and ongoing voyage.

Much concerned with social status, Columbus was granted a coat of arms in 1493. By 1502, he had added several new elements, such as an emerging continent next to islands and five golden anchors to represent the office of the Admiral of the Sea.




As a reward for his successful voyage of discovery, the Spanish sovereigns granted Columbus the right to bear arms. According to the blazon specified in letters patent dated May 20, 1493, Columbus was to bear in the first and the second quarters the royal charges of Castile and Leon — the castle and the lion — but with different tinctures or colors. In the third quarter would be islands in a wavy sea, and in the fourth, the customary arms of his family.

The earliest graphic representation of Columbus’s arms is found in his Book of Privileges and shows the significant modifications Columbus ordered by his own authority. In addition to the royal charges that were authorized in the top quarters, Columbus adopted the royal colors as well, added a continent among the islands in the third quarter, and for the fourth quarter borrowed five anchors in fess from the blazon of the Admiral of Castile. Columbus’s bold usurpation of the royal arms, as well as his choice of additional symbols, help to define his personality and his sense of the significance of his service to the Spanish monarchs.

In Search and Defense of Privileges

Queen Isabel and King Fernando had agreed to Columbus’s lavish demands if he succeeded on his first voyage: he would be knighted, appointed Admiral of the Ocean Sea, made the viceroy of any new lands, and awarded ten percent of any new wealth. By 1502, however, Columbus had every reason to fear for the security of his position. He had been charged with misadministration in the Indies.

The Library’s vellum copy of the Book of Privileges is one of four that Columbus commissioned to record his agreements with the Spanish crown. It is unique in preserving an unofficial transcription of a Papal Bull of September 26, 1493 in which Pope Alexander VI extended Spain’s rights to the New World.


                                                                   BOOK OF PRIVILEGES


The Book of Privileges is a collection of agreements between Columbus and the crowns of Spain prepared in Seville in 1502 before his 4th final voyage. The compilation of documents includes the 1497 confirmation of the rights to titles and profits granted to the Admiral by the 1492 contract of Santa Fe and augmented in 1493 and 1494, as well as routine instructions and authorizations related to his third voyage. We know that four copies of his Book of Privileges existed in 1502, three written on vellum and one on paper.

All three vellum copies have thirty-six documents in common, including the Papal Bull inter caetra of May 4, 1493, defining the line of demarcation of future Spanish and Portuguese explorations, and specifically acknowledging Columbus’s contributions. The bull is the first document on vellum in the Library’s copy and the thirty-sixth document in the Genoa and the Paris codices.

The Library copy does not have the elaborate rubricated title page, the vividly colored Columbus coat of arms, or the authenticating natural signatures contained in the other copies. The Library’s copy, however, does have a unique transcription of the Papal Bull Dudum siquidemof September 26, 1493, extending the Spanish donation. The bull is folded and addressed to the Spanish sovereigns.

At the time of the discovery of Central America by Christopher Columbus in 1502, highly civilized Maya and Nahua Indians inhabited the westernmost part of the isthmus. The impressive ruins of Tikal in Guatemala, Copan in Honduras, and Tazumal in El Salvador are relics of that civilization. Panama and most of Costa Rica were occupied by less civilized societies that shared cultural characteristics with the Indians of northern South America.

Within 25 years of the discovery of Central America the Spanish had essentially completed their conquest. Vasco Nunez de Bal boa crossed Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Exploring along the Pacific coast north and west of Panama in 1522, Gil Gonzalez Davila ventured into Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During 1524 Pedro de Alvarado defeated the Quiche, Cakchiquel, and Mam peoples in battle and seized their respective Guatemalan strongholds of Utatlan, Iximche, and Zacaleu. Shortly thereafter Hernando Cortez marched southeastward from Mexico into Guatemala and Honduras. Following various shifts in administrative borders, in 1570 the Spanish reestablished the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, whose authority extended from the province of Chiapas in southern Mexico eastward to the province of Costa Rica. These borders remained intact until after 1821 when Chiapas and Soconusco were stripped away from Central America and annexed to Mexico. Panama, initially included in the Viceroyalty of Peru, came under the control of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1718 and was ruled from Colombia.

As early as the 16th century the Spanish were required to relocate and fortify Caribbean port settlements because of repeated attacks by English, French, and Dutch privateers. The English established holdings along the Caribbean shoreline between the Yucatan and Nicaragua that initially were devoted to the cutting of logwood from which dyes were produced, and later to the lumbering of mahogany. Rebellious Caribs, transported by the English from St. Vincent, in the West Indies, to Caribbean shoreline settlements in 1797, remained a major element of the local population. The only part of the coast over which the English were to maintain control into the 20th century was the colony of British Honduras, which is now the independent nation of Belize.

For nearly three centuries Central America was joined under the banner of Spain. The Captaincy-General of Guatemala was governed from Ciudad Vieja until its destruction by an earthquake and flood in 1541. The capital then was transferred to the new city of Santiago de los Caballeros, which is known today as Antigua. An earthquake in 1773 destroyed Antigua and resulted in the relocation of the capital to the site of present-day Guatemala City.

Independence from Spain in 1821 was followed by a political union with Mexico under Emperor Agustin Iturbide. In 1823 Central America declared its independence from Mexico and formed the United Provinces of Central America. The province of Chiapas remained with Mexico. The final breakup of the United Provinces of Central America took place in 1838 with the withdrawal of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

During the remainder of the 19th century the history of Central America was dominated by internal conflict between conservatives, who supported the traditions of royal Spain and the Catholic Church, and liberals, who favored broad reforms and a federated union of the states of Central America. This was further complicated by the intervention of foreign powers vying for control of passages across the isthmus and by the British attempt to maintain its influence along the Caribbean shoreline. The struggle between conservatives and liberals occurred between the independent nations as well as between cities within the nations. In Guatemala conservative Quezaltenango was pitted against

Guatemala City; in Honduras, Comayagua against Tegucigalpa; and in Nicaragua, Granada against Leon. For more than 40 years after independence, the politics of Central America were dominated by the conservative Guatemalan dictator Rafael Carrera. Between 1873 and 1885 Justo Rufino Barrios, an anticlerical liberal, was president of Guatemala and successfully exercised his authority in support of liberal allies in other nations of Central America. During this period, foreign currency, earned from the export of coffee, supported the construction of railroads and the modernization of national economies. President Barrios was fatally wounded during a conflict with El Salvador while attempting to force the political reunification of Central America.

After independence, the idea of establishing an intervocalic passage across Central America drew the increasing attention of entrepreneurs from the United States and Europe. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 further fueled competition for exclusive rights to routes across Nicaragua and Panama. The British, in an effort to assure their control of the Caribbean entrance to a proposed canal across Nicaragua, occupied the port of San Juan del Norte between 1848 and 1850, renaming it Greytown. In 1851 Cornelius Vanderbilt established a highly profitable route across Nicaragua by waterway and carriage road. A railroad under the control of the United States was completed across Panama in 1855.

A number of treaties and concessions were drawn regarding the construction of a transisthmian canal; however, the only major attempt to build a canal was undertaken by the French after 1880. It ended in failure in 1889. After futile attempts with the government of Colombia to construct a canal across Panama, the United States managed to conclude a treaty for that purpose with Panama in 1903.

The American filibusterer William Walker went to Nicaragua, where he attempted to acquire control of transisthmian transit. In 1856 he became president of Nicaragua. The opposition of Vanderbilt and the neighboring nations of Central America ultimately led to his capture and execution in 1860.

The record of internal and external affairs in Central America during the 20th century featured a number of distinctions from the preceding century. The attempt to unify Central America as a single political unit faded as a major issue. Conflicts between nations revolved around issues, generally boundaries, rather than attempts to overthrow governments. These conflicts included disputes between Guatemala and Honduras in 1933, between Nicaragua and Costa Rica during the mid-1950s, and between El Salvador and Honduras in the 1969 Soccer War. Governments were dominated by military regimes supported by organized armed forces. Long-term dictatorships included those led by Manuel Estrada Cabrera and Jorge Ubico Castaneda in Guatemala, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez in El Salvador, Tiburcio Carias Andino in Honduras, and the Somoza family in Nicaragua.

In the 20th century European domination in Central American affairs gave way to North American interests. The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901 alerted the British that the United States was no longer bound by the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, which required neutral control in the construction of a transisthmian canal. The signing of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty in 1903 provided for the establishment of the Panamanian Canal Zone, the building of a canal, and the presence of the armed forces of the United States and their right to intervene in Panama in the event of public disturbance.

In an effort to secure the canal, which was opened in 1914, the United States was increasingly involved as a mediator in maintaining political stability within Central America. Military forces occupied Nicaragua between 1912 and 1925, and between 1927 and 1933. It was during the latter period that Augusto Sandino gained prominence as a leader of guerrilla forces opposed to occupation by United States Marines.

Political turmoil in the early 1930s was a by-product of the economic collapse brought about by the Great Depression. During this period, political unrest contributed to the founding of the dictatorial regimes of Jorge Ubico Castaneda in Guatemala, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez in El Salvador, Tiburcio Carias Andino in Honduras, and Anastasio Somoza Garcia in Nicaragua.

The period after World War II introduced a rise of nationalism and concern for the economic and social welfare of the underprivileged in Central America. This led to the overthrow of conservative military governments in Guatemala and El Salvador in 1944. Jose Figures led a liberation army against ultra-leftist forces in Costa Rica in 1948. He also worked toward the overthrow of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. Labor agitation and government restrictions in Honduras in 1954 led to a movement in Central America to force the United Fruit Company, which owned many banana plantations and had a virtual monopoly on the transportation network in the area, to make concessions.

The company since disposed of many of its holdings in plantations and rail and port facilities. After riots in Panama in the early 1960s, the United States agreed to review its policy of sovereignty over the Canal Zone. Belize gained independence in 1981. The dream of reuniting the nations of Central America was partially fulfilled by the establishment of the Central American Common Market in 1960. The market, however, has had many problems since it was established. Panama and Belize chose not to participate. The Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 brought to an end economic cooperation between the member nations of the Central American Common Market. Continued armed conflict between Central American nations contributed to the political instability of the entire region. Border tensions, except between Costa Rica and Panama, were common throughout the region. This was particularly true along borders between El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Guatemala continued to pressure Belize for border adjustments.

On Dec. 20, 1989, the United States invaded Panama to oust strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega and install a friendly government. The Organization of American States and the United Nations passed resolutions deploring the invasion.

The presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua signed an accord in August 1989 to disband the CONTRArebels. The Marxist Sandinista regime of Nicaragua fell after the country’s February 1990 elections. Opposition candidate Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was elected president. By early 1992 a peace plan was in place in El Salvador between rebel forces and the government. In June 1990 United States President George Bush proposed an initiative to encourage the growth of free-market economies in Central America by canceling part of their debt to the United States and by promising to work towards establishing a free trade zone throughout North, Central, and South America. (See alsoBelize; Caribbean Sea; Costa Rica; El Salvador; Guatemala; Honduras; Nicaragua; Panama; Panama Canal.)


Incursions in North America

The French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English arrived in North America in the 16th century, sporadically and in small numbers. Fishermen plied their trade off the Newfoundland coast from around 1500. Some Europeans hoped to find an alternative route to Asia (the Northwest Passage), wealthy civilizations, or precious metals, but few found what they sought. They did not however, confront an untamed wilderness but rather people who often lived in villages and towns.

The European intruders depended almost entirely on the indigenous people, who provided them food and guides, sometimes under duress. They made few serious attempts to settle in the early years. Frequently, the most enduring impact of their expeditions was negative. Their diseases devastated native populations, and violence and wholesale commandeering of food supplies left a legacy of fear and hostility.

Europeans along the South Atlantic

Portugal’s claim to Brazil resulted not only from Cabral’s 1500 landing, but also from the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. French efforts to exploit the resources and to establish settlements in the area persisted through much of the 16th century. The Spanish concentrated on the Rio de la Plata region and established the cities of Buenos Aires in 1536 and Asuncion in 1537.

Intense Portuguese colonization of Brazil began in the same decade. The capital, Salvador, was established in 1549 at the Bay of All Saints. The first Jesuits, who would play a crucial role in Brazilian society, arrived the same year. They established missionary settlements called aldeiasin which they hoped to bring Tupinambas and other groups into “civilized” society by subjecting them to a disciplined routine and making them full-time farmers. Portuguese efforts to use indigenous labor were never very successful. Gradually they began to import African slaves as sugarcane cultivation got underway in the northeast.