| By J. Bury and A. Bebbington | Published in Subterranean Struggles: New Dynamics of Mining, Oil and Gas in Latin America. Edited by A. Bebbington and J.Bury. Austin: University of Texas Press |
Excerpt: Shortly after midnight on Friday, October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus and his expeditionary force of three ships first hove into view of the landscapes of the Americas. The next morning the expedition made landfall on a small island in the Bahamas where Columbus claimed the lands for the Spanish Crown.1 When the many inhabitants of the island approached them, Columbus and his men offered them a few red caps, glass beads, and “many other things of little value,” which apparently “gave them great pleasure and made them so much our friends it was a marvel to see” (Columbus, as cited in Markham 1893, 33). The local people, in exchange, gave them parrots, skeins of cotton thread, darts, and some of the gold jewelry that they wore, as Columbus notes, “on their arms, legs, in their ears, around their necks, and through their noses” (Markham 1893, 39). On the first day of contact Columbus noted that he was satisfied with the results of these exchanges because the local inhabitants “would be more easily freed and converted to our holy faith by love than by force” and that “they should be good servants ” (Markham 1893, 37–38). This momentous meeting on the beaches of the Bahamas, when Columbus offered the native populations of the Western Hemisphere trinkets of little value in exchange for their freedom and lands, is a well- worn moment of profound historical significance that inaugurated a centuries-long period of interhemispheric unequal exchange that transformed the planet (Crosby 1972). While history has long examined the conquest of the Americas through the triple imperatives of god, gold, and glory, from the distance of four centuries, the text of Columbus’ journals is inordinately and rather obsessively focused on gold, its abundance, and how it might be extracted.