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On last Sunday October 8th, we saw to the Spanish-Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, a, Hispanity prince, defending the democracy and the constitutional unity of Spain against those who deny it and want to break it. It is a well-known fact and widely used for propaganda, that a lie repeated hundreds, thousands of times, even if it is still a lie, in the collective imagination becomes true. These days we are attending the spectacle of how two of those lies which hurt us so much, are reaching our heart, these two new invented truths are: ‘Spain is robbing us’ cradled by the Catalan secessionist and, ‘The Spaniards who came with Columbus to America are genocidal.‘
Saving the well-known names and individualities of science and arts, what has Spain contributed as a political identity to the becoming of the world?
Saving the infinity of painters like El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbaran, Goya, Sorolla, Picasso, Gray, Dali or Miro; writers such as Cervantes, Garcilaso de la Vega, Lope de Vega, Gongora, Becquer, Garcia Lorca, Machado, Unamuno, Baroja, Perez Galdos, Jiménez, Delibes, Valle Inclan, Rosalia de Castro, Calderon de la Barca, Ortega y Gasset, Espronceda, Zorrilla, Cela and many and many more; or of men of science like Ramon y Cajal, Marañon or Severo Ochoa …
In Spain concretely Castile, was where were created for the very first time in history, those organs of representation of the three estates, seed of the parliamentarianism. Something which was done long before the Commons were constituted in England, because here the three states were already in the Cortes (Parliament) of Castile from 1188 and, later, in the other Hispanic kingdoms. Those would not arrive to England until 1258. Another key contribution of the Spaniards in the Middle Ages was their own miscegenation with Muslims and Jews, who brought different versions of Hellenism and Eastern wisdom from the East.
There was no phonetic writing In America before 1492. That is why it is so important to remember that in 1492, the grammar of Antonio de Nebrija, the first European grammar since the Romans, was completed, which would serve as a model for other languages and marked a milestone in the maturation of the Spanish language. The Spanish universities were the first of the American continent, many years before than the Anglo-Saxon universities which boast of antiquity and solemn reputation. It is still debated today on which one of them was officially the first, whether the National Major University of San Marcos in Peru or the University of Santo Tomas de Aquino in Santo Domingo: Both were created in the first half of the sixteenth century.
In 1700, the Hispano-American Empire had more than eight million inhabitants, mostly all in the census. All were in: native, mestizo and peninsular. At that particular time, the British colonies barely exceed 200,000 inhabitants. Any attempt to compare them is a forgery. The miscegenation was spectacular. Hugh Thomas, an English historian, writer, diplomat and member of the House of Lords until his death in May 2017, pointed out: “The miscegenation was the greatest work of art achieved by the Spaniards in the New World, a mixture of European and those of Indians. To those who think that is an obvious statement, I would ask you to consider how rare was this state of affairs between the Anglo-Saxons and the Indians of North America.” It was not rare, but non-existent. Or with the aboriginals of Australia, who were, like the Indians of North America, simply exterminated almost in their entirety.
Continuing with this issue, in the United States today there are approximately 2.5 million of its Indian descendants, 0.8% of the US population, living in reservations. But, oh! we Spanish genocides have left a mark on South America impossible to erase: Bolivia, with an indigenous population of 72% and 27% mestizo, mostly bilingual, who speaks Quechua or Aymara in addition to Spanish; Peru, in an 1876 census, some thirty years after their independence, had an Indian population of 59%, which has gradually diminished during the Republic. In 2012, the population of different ethnic groups in Mexico was 15 million, most of whom speak Nahuatl, the Mexica language and the most widespread, but also up to 65 different ethnic minority languages.
In parallel to the conquest of the American territories, a debate on human rights was held, until then untold: Facing the abuse of some conquerors, many Spanish missionaries denounced the excessive violence, and worked to enforce more fair laws against the Encomienda’s, a type of covert slavery. Their efforts were materialized in the ‘New Laws of 1542’, which recognized the Indians as free citizens of the Spanish Crown, and opened an unpublished debate on human rights in the sixteenth century. Despite their shortcomings, these laws were precursors of the International Law and represented the avant-garde legislation for their time. Francisco de Vitoria, father of the International Law, posthumously lit the so-called ‘controversy of Valladolid’, held between 1550 and 1551, where was argued that the Indians had the same rights as any Christian, a thesis defended by the Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas, who was the first Bishop in Chiapas.
But Spain lost the battle of propaganda so far. The Spaniards never made good communication about their actions, their merits or their conquests. This is due to a minority complex developed over the years, especially since the Disaster of 98, with the loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. Another cause is the existence of a left wing who denigrates the Hispano-American politics, who were speaking badly about the conquest and the civilizing work overseas of Spain. In Latin America, after the independence the children were taught in schools that a monstrous genocide had been carried out and many Indians had been killed by Spain. This statement is completely false, there is no trace of truth in that theory. The civilizing history of Spain is almost totally unknown even for the Spanish themselves. Research should be done to reorient the youth and make the Spanish population proud again. Not only of being Spanish, but that of magnificent empire extended to the whole world, which offered education to many people, who founded hospitals, colleges … Which neither the English, nor the Portuguese, nor the Dutch ever did in their colonial possessions.
It is imperative to know our past accurately, although today there is scarcely the political will to make a great community of united Hispanic nations. The institutional weight we would have in the world in GDP would be very important. Unlike England creating the Commonwealth, in the Hispanic America was cultivated hatred towards Spain. It was sponsored by the great revolutionaries like Bolivar or San Martin, supported by England, that thus took its revenge against Spain. One of the first actions carried out in New Granada by the ‘liberators’ was the expropriation of the Indians lands which were protected by Spanish laws. As a new egalitarian republic, the Indians could not have privileges. It was the great Creole oligarchs who expropriated those Indians lands, which originated the indigenous poverty. Lacking the land, they found it necessary to serve as cheap labour in conditions very close to slavery.
It is necessary the Renaissance for the Hispanic nations, and I include today’s Spain. We need to embrace the empire which engendered us, in both sides of the Atlantic. Doing it will do the same that Europe did with Rome in the fifteenth century: be proud of our origins and learn from it.