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Spanish colonization of the Americas

Spanish colonization of the Americas began with the arrival in the Americas of Christopher Columbus in 1492. He had been searching for a new route to the Asian Indies and was convinced he had found it. Columbus was made governor of the new territories and made several more journeys across the Atlantic. He profitted from the labor of native slaves, whom he forced to mine gold; he also attempted to sell some slaves to Spain. While generally regarded as an excellent navigator, he was a poor administrator and was stripped of the governorship in 1500.

Early settlements by the Spanish were on the islands of the Caribbean. On his fourth and final voyage in 1502 Columbus encountered a large canoe off the coast of what is now Honduras filled with trade goods. He boarded the canoe and rifled through the cargo which included cacao beans, copper and flint axes, copper bells, pottery, and colorful cotton garments. He took one prisoner and what he wanted from the cargo and let the canoe continue. This was the first contact of the Spanish with the civilizations of Central America.

The Treaty of Tordesillas was an attempt to solve the disputes with the Portuguese.

It was 1517 before another expedition from Cuba visited Central America landing on the coast of the Yucatan in search of slaves. This was followed by a phase of conquest: The Spaniards (just having finished a war against the Muslims in Iberia) replaced the Amerindian local oligarchies and impose a new religion: Christianity. (See also: Conquistador, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Cortez, Francisco Pizarro, Bartolomé de las Casas[?], Spanish Conquest of Yucatan)

Diseases and cruel systems of work (the famous haciendas[?] and mining industry) decimated the Amerindian population under its government. African Negro slaves began to be imported. On the other hand, the Spaniards will not impose their language in the same measurement and the Catholic Church even evangelized in Quechua, Nahuatl and Guarani, contributing to the expansion of these Amerindian languages and equipping them with a writing system.

Areas in the Americas under Spanish control included the current countries of Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, and parts of the United States. (...Many more to add[?])

The initial years saw a struggle between the Conquistadores and the royal authority. The Conquistadores were often poor nobles that wanted to acquire the land and labourers (Encomienda[?]) that they couldn't achieve in Europe. Rebellions were frequent (See Lope de Aguirre).

The precious metals were subjected to the Quinto Real[?] tax, a fifth of everything seized. The silver of America (especially the mines of Zacatecas and Potosí[?]) went to pay the enormous debt brought by the wars against the Reformation led by the Spanish kings.

Soon the exclusive of commerce between Europe and America was conceded to Seville (later to Cádiz).

Mexico served as a base for the colonization of the Philippines[?] (see Galeón de Manila[?])


In 1720 a small expedition from Santa Fe met and attempted to parley with French allied Pawnee in what is now Nebraska. Things did not go well and a battle ensued; the Spanish were badly defeated, only 13 managing to return to New Mexico. Although this was a small engagement it is significant being the furthest penetration of the Spanish into the Great Plains, setting the limit to Spanish expansion and influence there.

During the Peninsula War, several assemblies were established by the creole to rule the lands in the name of Ferdinand VII of Spain. This experience of self-government and the influence of Liberalism and the ideas of the French and American Revolutions brought the struggle for independence, led by the Libertadores[?]. The colonies freed themselves, often with help from the British empire[?], which aimed to trade without the Spanish monopoly.

In 1898, the United States won the Spanish-American War and occupied Cuba and Puerto Rico, ending Spanish occupation in the Americas.

Still, the early 20th century saw a stream of immigration of poor people and political exiles from Spain to the former colonies, especially Cuba, Mexico and Argentina. After the 1970s, the flow was inverted.

Currently, the Iberoamerican[?] countries and Spain and Portugal have organized themselves as the Comunidad Iberoamericana de Naciones[?].

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