"At least Columbus had the wit, in his madness, to mistake Venezuela for the outskirts of Paradise. But he remarked on the availability of cheap slave labor in Paradise." -- Ursula K. LeGuin
True to our colonial tradition of valorizing conquerors, this film ignores the inconvenient facts of New World History: the genocide of the Tainos (Columbus himself led an attack against them), their decimation and starvation, the repartimiento and encomiendo slave systems set up by the Columbus brothers on Hispanola, and all the rest of the sordid story. A ruthless opportunist who loved wealth and titles, Columbus went to the New World for two reasons: he saw himself as a "Christ-bearer" (his own term) to primitives, and he wanted something he mentions dozens of times in his diary: gold.
Were all the whites evil and all the Indians good? Of course not. But it is not an exercise in black-and-white thinking to remember those who perished in the gold mines, who starved to death on the roads, and who fell down in fear before the cannons brought to intimidate them into obedience. It is their stories that the victors have silenced, glamorizing instead their persecutors and colonizers.
Until someone makes a more honest film about the man responsible for so much death that his actions with the Indians shocked even the Spanish crown, here are a few quotations taken directly from his own journals:
...Having banished all the Jews from all your Kingdoms and realms, during this same month of January Your Highnesses ordered me to go with a sufficient fleet to the said regions of India. For that purpose I was granted great favors and ennobled; from then henceforward I might entitle myself Don and be High Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and perpetual Governor of all the islands and continental land that I might discover and acquire...
They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases Our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.
All that these people have they will give for a very ridiculous price; they gave one great basket of cotton for the end of a leather strap. These people are very free from evil and war...I have to say, Most Serene Princes, that if devout religious persons knew the Indian language well, all these people would soon become Christians. Thus I pray to Our Lord that Your Highnesses will appoint persons of great diligence in order to bring to the Church such great numbers of peoples, and that they will convert these peoples, just as they have destroyed those who would not confess the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I see and know that these people have no religion whatever, nor are they idolaters, but rather, they are very meek and know no evil. They do not kill or capture others and are without weapons.
Today there came to the side of the ship a canoe with six youths in it, and five came aboard. These I ordered held and am bringing them with me. Afterwards I sent some of my men to a house west of the river, and they brought seven women, small and large, and three children. I did this so that the men I had taken would conduct themselves better in Spain than they might have otherwise, because of having women from their own country there with them.
"It is said, by Las Casas among others, that what perplexed the Tainos of Española most about the strange white people from the large ships was not their violence, not even their greed, nor in fact their peculiar attitudes toward property, but rather their coldness, their hardness, their lack of love." -- Kirkpatrick Sale