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SPAIN: Black Legend or Black Record?

The question of the Black Legend affected me directly. It was the way I learned history,- At Oxford, my mentor was the great liberal Salvador de Madariaga, At Stanford I founded Bolivar House, choosing the name to indicate support for democracy at a time when dictatorships were the rule in Latin America. Madariaga, embittered by the failure of the Spanish Republic, had become ultra-conservative and wrote his biography of Bolivar, demeaning him for having destroyed the great Spanish empire. This led to a disagreement between us, which never really healed.

Bienvenido Macario says: "The lesson of history is that equal suffering, like equal opportunity, does not produce equal results. Among colonizers, we can group Spain, France, Belgium and Portugal and others on one side and Great Britain on the other. All these colonizers were good explorers and discoverers, but when it came to sustained progress and continued working relationships, Great Britain wins hands down; a distant second is France. The deciding factor was the entrepreneurial spirit of looking to the future of posterity rather than looking up to the spirit of those who have already died. The selfless act to ensure the future of their children and the coming generations".

Edith Coliver says "The Philippines' National Hero, Jose Rizal, has written in his famous "Il Filibusterismo" and "Noli me Tangere" of the debauchery of the Catholic Church in the 18th and 19th century. Some of this lingers. Some priests have opted out of the church to marry, and I was asked by a friend to be godmother to a child fathered by a priest. She asked the bishop to encourage the father to pay for her confinement. Ah, men!

Linda Nyquist writes: "I'm not so convinced that the friars were loving and peaceful. There is ample documentation of beating Indians for a variety of infractions, not the least of which was lack of submission. The conditions on the haciendas/encomiendas of the religious groups were extremely harsh".

My retort: I am talking about the missions, which were not the same as the encomiendas; despite the authoritarianism of the mission system, the Indians flocked to them. Had the priests been so cruel, present-day Indians would not display such piety. Again, as in talking about atrocities in Central America today, we must take a balanced view. As I small boy, when I knew little about the United States, I read Le Lac Salé [Salt Lake], a novel by the Catholic Pierre Benoît. It describes the Mormons as depraved monsters; a Jesuit saves a girl from them. It was not exactly a balanced picture. Indeed, I would make a comparison between the Spanish conquest and the American conquest of our West. The 49s and co were as ruthless seekers of gold as the Spaniards, while the Mormons had, like the friars, higher motives.

Ronald Hilton - 6/9/01