During my winter breaks, my parents give me the opportunity to travel the world — if, of course, traveling the world meant staying in a selected western European country for a couple weeks. As someone who relishes every opportunity to travel, I am forever grateful to have the chance to experience other countries with my parents. I seek to maximize my experiences abroad as much as possible through documenting my travels through writing and photography. But, as someone also with a basic understanding of political economy among developing countries, I cannot bring myself to appreciate the aesthetic beauties afforded by high-income countries without taking note of their colonial history.
tours in colonialism represents my attempt to bridge the void between the effect of the aesthetic beauty of western Europe and its cause through a history of exploitation of developing economies. I will now summarize some scholarly literature on the past of these countries because I want individuals to feel as I do — ambivalent between the act of appreciating and the act of despising. Because, no matter how well some countries hide their past through historical revisionism and cultural hegemony, as long as the effects of colonialism can still be seen today, I can never appreciate any aspect western European countries without a backdrop of disdain. Rotten fruit, despite smelling sweet, is still rotten fruit.
Spain’s long history of colonialism started with Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the Caribbean islands, which he subsequently named Hispaniola. Because his journey had been financed by the monarchs of Spain, Columbus retained a position of governor of the territories he discovered. After a few attempts of establishing permanent colonial settlements, his son, Bartolomeo Columbus, succeeded on the fourth voyage and enslaved the native Taíno population. The harsh forced labor as well as the rechanneling of food severely impaired the fertility rate and increased the mortality rate of the island.
Within the years of Spain’s colonial takeover of the island, the population of the island declined at an average of 3.5 percent per year. By the end of the century, Taíno population had been reduced by over 96 percent. That is, of course, not to mention the cultural and biological genocide committed through slavery and forced marriages that leaves the Taíno effectively extinct.
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec civilization began with Moctezuma II, the ruler of the Aztecs, inviting Hernán Cortés to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. It was reported that the Aztecs showered the Spanish with a variety of gifts not limited to flowers and jewels and that Cortés responded by offering his friendship. After his arrival in the royal palace, Cortés subsequently captured Moctezuma in his own homeand pillaged the palace for gold. After the Spanish massacred thousands of unarmed Aztec nobles at the Festival of Toxcatl, decimating the Aztec leadership, they found that they had overstayed their welcome, forcing them to flee with the loot that they have accumulated over the past few weeks.
At this time, when everyone was enjoying the celebration, when everyone was already dancing, when everyone was already singing, when song was linked to song and the songs roared like waves, in that precise moment the Spaniards determined to kill people. They came into the patio, armed for battle…They came on foot, carrying swords and wooden and metal shields. Immediately, they surrounded those who danced, then rushed to the place where the drums were played. They attacked the man who was drumming and cut off both his arms. Then they cut off his head [with such a force] that it flew off, falling far away…Some tried to escape, but the Spaniards murdered them at the gates while they laughed. Others climbed the walls, but they could not save themselves.
Miguel Leon-Portilla, The Broken Spears
The Spanish allied themselves with a neighboring town, Tlaxcala, and recovered from their losses during their escape. Although the Spanish had escaped Tenochtitlan, they left behind a plague of smallpox, which had taken the lives of millions not limited to the new emperor after Moctezuma. A few months later, when the plague still had traces within the city, the Spanish returned to lay siege to Tenochtitlan. The city eventually fell from the collective forces of the Tlaxcala and Spanish; the use of cannons had been quite effective in the siege.
Francisco Pizarro arrived in modern-day Peru with around 180 men. Atahualpa, the leader of the Incas, initially believed that the Spanish were benevolent gods but soon dismissed their initial perceptions after they witnessed the Spanish enslaving natives in chains. Their contact, however, soon turned hostile after the Spanish attacked thousands of unarmed Incas at the Battle of Cajamarca, resulting thousands of Incas killed with no casualties by the Spanish and the capture of Atahualpa. After holding Atahualpa hostage for ransoms of gold and silver, he was subsequently converted into Christianity and executed with a garrote, thus completing the Spanish conquest of the Incas.
Throughout the Spanish occupation of Peru, the population in the area declined by around 93 percent, mostly due to a series of outbreaks caused by pathogens introduced by the colonists.
The same patterns of conquest and occupation follow the remaining territories that comprise Spain’s colonies, namely, a few hundred Spanish soldiers exploiting domestic tensions and infectious diseases to conquer entire civilizations. After conquering a territory, the Spanish forcefully converted many natives to Christianity and awarded soldiers who participated in the conquest to rights of the labor in a given area of conquest, known as an encomienda. The extractive economic and political institutions that have persisted long after independence were created during this time.
Perhaps the most gruesome acts committed in the name of capitalism had been within the encomienda system, which awarded various conquers of territories with the rights to the labor of the conquered population. Those who resisted enslavement were faced with inhumane punishments. Despite the monarchy considering the native populations to be official Spanish subjects, Although there existed restrictions to those who could be subject to torture within the Spanish empire, rarely did those rights apply to conquered populations, who could be subject to torture for suspected dissidence, such as in the case of Joseph Romero “Canito.”
Acemoglu describes the incentives of Spanish colonization in The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development:
The main objective of the Spanish and the Portuguese colonization was to obtain gold and other valuables from America. Soon after the conquest, the Spanish crown granted rights to land and labor (the encomienda) and set up a complex mercantilist system of monopolies and trade regulations to extract resources from the colonies.
Honestly, from my basic understanding of political economy, I think that Spain has ruined the developing world more than any other colonial power. But what is the value of my opinion against the reality of experience?