Just Another Old Fort Named El Morro

In 1539 Spain began building a fort at the entrance to the harbor of San Juan to fend off attacks from their European rivals. The sound you just heard was my head exploding. Let’s review the scenario. An Italian gent named Chris Columbus, on a voyage of exploration, landed on what he thought was the shore of India, having at last discovered a short trade route to the Far East. In fact, what he’d actually found was a flourishing civilization of peaceable, indigenous people (well, except for the Caribe tribes who were admittedly cannibals, but I digress). So he claimed the land for the court of Spain. He didn’t ask. He didn’t barter. He didn’t buy. He just flat out claimed the land. Talk about the Art of the Deal!

During the next fifty years the Spanish conquistadors (invaders) managed to kill off 90% of the indigenous population. But then, alas, they had to go erect themselves a big old fort (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) to protect their newly appropriated interests from the acquisitive ambitions of their colonialist neighbors from the Old World. I’m not getting a sense here that Western Civilization was all that civilized after all.

The design for El Morro became the business model for Spanish forts across Latin America in Cuba, Acapulco, Guatemala, Honduras, The Dominican Republic and a host of other Spanish conquests during the “Age of Exploration.” It protected Spanish interests for the next four hundred years. From the Brits. From the Dutch. Not from the Portuguese. The Portuguese were busy colonizing Brazil.

And what about the Germans? What were our Teutonic brethren up to during the fabled “Age of Exploration?” Turned out they helped finance Spanish colonialism and were rewarded for their efforts with a duly signed and notarized lease to plunder Venezuela. You can always tell an honest invader. He has the requisite paperwork to validate his just and honorable intent, affixed with all necessary seals and signatures.

And what about the local folks who tilled the soil and hunted wild animals in those distant lands before they were conquered? If you try real hard, you can find their shattered bones in unmarked graves in countless overgrown cemeteries. Sic Transit Exploration.

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