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The Black Legend and the Churches

Dear Professor Lougee:
     As I said I am putting in the campus mail the copy of the Boletín Amercanista, and I will send subsequent numbers as they arrive. A whole dissertation could be built up around it; attached in a posting on its significance. Also, I have deposited in Hoover materials concerning modern Argentina, which likewise would provide material for a dissertation. Anyone interested should get in touch with me. Happy Thanksgiving! Ronald Hilton.

     A previous posting described the sharp disappointment Spaniards felt that the 1992 celebrations of the "miraculous year" 1492 should have instead rekindled all the gross exaggerations of Spanish misdeeds. This is known as the Black Legend, which all serious scholars hoped had given way to a more reasonable assessment.
     The Black Legend, promoted originally by France and England, has popped up again in a puzzling way. The latest issue (49) of the Boletín Americanista, published by the History of America section of the Faculty of Geography and History of the University of Barcelona, contains a review of a book by Norman Lewis, and published (1998) by Herder Publishing House of Barcelona. It is supposedly a translation from the English original entitled Missionaries: God against the Indians. I can find no trace of the original; possibly no publisher wanted to take it on.
     The author is said to be an English novelist, though there again I drew a blank. Why should an English novelist want to write a book about Spanish missionaries in America? The book sounds like clap-trap, a compilation of the wildest accusations against the Spanish missionaries in America. However, most of the book is devoted to Protestant missionaries, including the Mennonites in the Chaco, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and the New Tribes. They "manipulate" the Bible in order to exterminate the Indians in lands destined for white men, and they even prostitute native girls.
     A special article tells the story of the Boletin Americanista. It was founded in 1959 with the aim of studying the Catalan role in the colonization of America. Is the secret aim to discredit all non-Catalan groups? The Franciscans, represented by friars like the Majorcan Father Serra, seem exempt from the accusations made. The article says that the journal welcomed Americanists in other fields, and it is heavily biased by anthropologists who want to preserve the native way of life, which they idealize.
     This issue opens with the Declaration of Barcelona issue by the 1997 Symposium Against Impunity and For the Defense of Human Rights. It was drafted by an organization called the Argentine Platform Against Impunity. It sounds like an organization backing the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who assemble in that Buenos Aires square to protest against the disappearance of their sons during the military dictatorship. It looks as though there was Argentine financial support for the conference.
     The Argentine Platform edited the volume containing the papers given at the Symposium. It is reviewed by the same person who reviewed the Norman Lewis book. The thesis seems to be that the Spanish exploitation of the natives, supported by the Spanish missionaries, was continued by Latin American dictatorships with the support of the Catholic Church. Now the exploitation by American corporations is being supported by Protestant missionaries. It is true that since the Declaration of Medellín, capitalists and their friends view Catholic clerics as the enemy and favor the Protestants. Ríos Montt of Guatemala is a case in point.
     In all this, we hear echoes of Padre Bartolomé de las Casas, the Spanish Dominican who became Bishop of Chiapas and whose writings on "the destruction of the Indies" exaggerated the misdeeds of the Spanish colonizers and provided grist for the Black Legend mill. Today he is the hero of the pro-Zapatistas, who have made San Cristóbal de las Casas a center of their activities. Bishop Samuel Ruiz was undoubtedly influenced by his memory, but this does not mean that Bishop Ruiz was involved in violent protests.
     The culmination of the process described is the establishment of the new global economy based on neo-liberal economics, which many in the Third World view as the cause of their misfortune. While it is true that the new order has enriched many capitalists, there is no proof that it has worsened the lot of the masses. However, envy is a more potent opinion former than reason. The Revista Americanista is one of the most important scholarly journals on Latin America, and a careful study of it would provide an excellent guide to the history of the modern concept of Latin America.

Ronald Hilton - 11/24/99