Niños Héroes #4: Cristóbal Colón (Columbus)

Twenty-seven cities worldwide and a South-American country bear Columbus’ name, as do innumerable streets throughout Mexico.

No, Columbus wasn’t unique in believing the world was round. He argued that the world was small, with India to the east just beyond the point-of-no-return (when a ship was half-way done with its water). If he was wrong, everyone on the voyage would die. If he was right, well, the potential riches (silks and spices) could fuel an empire.

The Greeks had accurately measured the Earth’s circumference more than 1,700 years before Columbus. But neither he nor the Spanish monarchs who sponsored him were mathematicians. Their greed overwhelmed their caution.

Fortunately for all of them, a huge continent lay between Spain and India (although Columbus would go to his grave insisting he’d made it to India). He didn’t find silks nor spices there, but he noted how many Natives (he called them “Indians”) wore gold.

The monarchs demanded it all, which made Columbus desperate, perhaps even ruthless. He enslaved the Natives of Hispaniola, for example; and if the worst accusations against him can be believed, he brutally murdered them when they failed to bring him enough gold; the survivors resorted to infaticide, then mass suicide. The Natives of Hispaniola all but disappeared.

Ultimately, more than ninety percent of the indigenous population in the Americas would perish, as many as 100 million souls.

We can’t blame Columbus for everything. Although Spanish oppression played a part, diseases like Smallpox did most of the killing. The truth is, this, the largest, most horrific racial annihilation in human history was inevitable (a disheartening fact which certainly challenges the notion of a benevolent god).

Regardless, with his daring first voyage, Columbus inadvertently united two hemispheres, launching world history on a completely different, irrevocable trajectory. Hero and/or villain, Columbus was, without question, one of the most influential individuals who ever lived.

David Ellison, author of Santander: Rambling on Borrowed Time, retired after 36 years in education to Ajijic, Mexico.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store