In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he certainly did not discover America. Instead, he landed on one of the Bahama Islands. For months, he went from island to island, searching for the gold and riches that he had promised to the Spanish Monarchy in return for funding his journey. One of his ships was wrecked off the coast of what we now know as Haiti, forcing him to leave some of his men there when he returned to Spain with only a handful of gold and six indigenous people as slaves, who were paraded up and down the streets of Spain.
He returned to Haiti on his second voyage and discovered the makeshift settlement in ruins and all the men he had left there murdered by angry locals for raping their women. On this voyage he captured 500 Native Americans and sent them to Spain as repayment to the monarchy for their investment. While Queen Isabella was horrified and sent many of them back to the Caribbean, insisting they were Spanish subjects and not slaves, Columbus continued to capture locals and is said to have enslaved 5,000 of them. In addition to this, he and his men forced them to convert to Catholicism or be burned at the stake. He also ate so much of their food that a famine was created, forced them to dig in mines to search for gold, and introduced European diseases that wiped many of them out. In less than 20 years, the population had decreased by more than 50%.
Guacanagari, one of the five kings of the island at the time, who had also showed kindness to Columbus when his ship had wrecked, is quoted to have said the following before escaping the genocide Columbus was responsible for –
These words haunt me and I find no celebration in my heart for the destruction and carnage this man is responsible for. Today, I honor the brave men and women who were the first to discover and settle this land. Women and men who gave their lives being kind to those who came after them in greed and stole this land, nearly wiping them out and calling it a great victory. I lament on this ground stained with the blood of millions who once lived here and truly cared for her. If history teaches us anything at all, it should be that, once again, those who were taken advantage of are the true heroes.
Today, I honor them.