400 Years of Benevolent Spanish Rule

My bad. I keep calling Chris Columbus an Italian. There wasn’t any Italy back then. The country we know as Italy didn’t spring into existence until around 1866. Chris was Genoese, not to be confused with being Genovese which was the moniker associated with a crime family of some repute. Italy back in Chris’s day was a loose collection of independent city states. The most famous city state was Rome. Remember the Roman Empire? The Western Roman Empire flourished from roughly the time of Christ until somewhere in the mid-fourth century when it just kind of came apart at the seams. I’m trying to put the situation in Puerto Rico into historical context. Bear with me.

The whole Jesus thing was a land grab. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I’m not interested in debating the divinity of Jesus, the improbability of deistic insemination or the metaphysical implications of the Holy Trinity. Prior to 313 it was illegal to be a Christian according to the laws of the Roman Empire. Heck, being a member of any religion, organized or slapdash, was a crime punishable by execution. What the Emperor Constantine did was first to legalize membership in any and all religions (313) and second to define the rules of conduct for Christians according to a set of canons drawn up by the First Council of Nicaea (325). When something is legal it can be regulated. And taxed.

Was Constantine a Christian? Not until he was baptized on his deathbed. Even Emperors can be persuaded to embrace a particularly attractive philosophical doctrine by the promise of eternal happiness in Paradise on the one hand as opposed to the same eternity spent burning in the fires of Hell. As the plaque on Chuck Colson’s wall points out, “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” Besides, the prophet Muhammed didn’t arrive on the scene for another 250 years so conversion to Islam wasn’t an option for Constantine. Now I’m not saying Constantine wasn’t a True Believer. I’m just saying, from the evidence at hand, it looks like Connie was a very pragmatic dude.

Speaking of Muslims and Christians, the biggest land grab in history, the Crusades, took place between 1096 and 1291. Just trying to explain how Chris and his boys felt perfectly comfortable claiming someone else’s land for Ferdie and Bella. By that time Christians felt theologically entitled. As James Michener, in his book Hawaii, remarked, “The missionaries came to the islands to do good, and they did right well.”

Final note on land grabbers. Who do you think started the Spanish Inquisition? Hint. It wasn’t the Genovese family. It was Ferdie and Bella way back in 1478. Which leads us up to the “Age of Exploitation.” Thus, the Spanish ruled Central America and the Caribbean until around 1898 when some fool sank a boat in Havana Harbor and the United States of America became a player on the world stage.

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