A. THE LIFE AND HISTORY OF BARTOLOME DE LAS CASAS
Bartolomé de Las Casas was born in Seville in 1474. His father was Pedro de las Casas, a merchant, descended from one of the families that had migrated from France to found the town of Seville. As a boy of eight, Las Casas witnessed the return of Columbus to Seville after his first voyage to the New World. He made his own first trip to Hispaniola in 1502. Bartolome studied theology and law at the University of Salamanca before accompanying Columbus on his third voyage to America in 1498. In 1511 Las Casas went to Santo Domingo to join the priesthood; a year later, he participated in the colonization of Cuba. The torture, enslavement, and generally inhumane treatment of the Indians that he witnessed during Cuba's colonization compelled him to defend them against further mistreatment, and in 1521, by the decree of the Holy Roman Emperor king Charles I of Spain, Las Casas was granted an opportunity to plan and implement a system of non-violent colonization and Christian indoctrination in the district of Cumaná in Venezuela, he died on July 18, 1566, at the age of eighty-two.
B. THE CONTRBUTIONS AND CHANGES
In 1514 however, he underwent a dramatic conversion, prompted by his witnessing the genocidal cruelty inflicted on the Indians. He soon joined the Dominican order and became a passionate and prophetic defender of the indigenous peoples. For more than fifty years he traveled back and forth between the New World and the court of Spain, attempting through his books, letters, and preaching to expose the cruelties of the Conquest, whose very legitimacy, and not merely excesses, he disavowed. Although the main attraction for the Spanish in the New World was gold, the Conquest was ostensibly justified by evangelical motivations. The pope had authorized the subjugation of the Indian populations for the purpose of implanting the gospel and securing their salvation. Las Casas vehemently opposed the notion that the...