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The Dominican Republic

In the stormy history of the island of Hispaniola, where Columbus was buried, American intervention has followed upon Spanish, French and British. A survey of the scene since 1492.

Almost nothing is recorded of the Arawaks, who inhabited Hispaniola at the time of the arrival of Columbus; one century later they were extinct.

Indeed, the history of the island since 1492 gives it some claim to be regarded as one of the unhappiest in the world. Santo Domingo, founded in 1496, is the oldest city of the New World; there, sixteen years later, was begun the cathedral to which the bones of Columbus were subsequently transferred.

Gold was found and no pains were spared to set the Indians to work in the mines and to convert them to Christianity.

The Cross and the gold—already the pattern was establishing itself. Bartolome de Las Casas, the “Apostle of the Indians”, had pity on the natives; but Spanish settlers, who had introduced the sugar cane, would only remain if the newfound lands could be profitably worked.

The solution was to import sturdy blacks from Africa, who survived hard labour better than the indigenous inhabitants. A fatal conjunction of wind and current and human greed carried the slave craft easily from the Guinea coast to the islands of the Caribbean; black ivory enriched Sir John Hawkins and his fellow slavers of all nationalities.

While the Spice Islands of the West were being cultivated by imported labour, the trail of gold and precious stones led further westward to the mainland coast of the Caribbean—the Spanish Main.

From Hispaniola, Balboa voyaged westward to set eyes on the Pacific and blaze the trail that led Pizarro to Peru.

The riches that flowed back towards Spain were an irresistible attraction to the other maritime powers of Europe; the buccaneers and freebooters of England, France and Holland swarmed about the islands like wasps in rotten fruit.

A few years before the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Drake attacked Santo Domingo and held the city up to ransom.

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