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Bartolome de Las Casas

Bartolomé de Las Casas (b. Seville, 1474; d. Madrid, 1566) was a 16th century Spanish priest and settler in the New World, famous for his advocacy of the rights of Native Americans in the face of brutal torture and genocide at the hands of Spanish colonialists. His pamphlet A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies gives a vivid description of the atrocities committed by the conquistadors in America – most particularly, the Caribbean, Central America, and what is now modern Mexico – in the including many events to which he was a witness.

Dedicated to King Philip II of Spain, Las Casas explained that he supported the acts of barbarism when he first arrived in the New World, but that he soon became convinced that the horrendous acts would eventually lead to the collapse of Spain itself in an act of Divine retribution. According to Las Casas, it was the responsibility of the Spanish to convert the Indians, who would then be loyal subjects of Spain, rather than to kill them. To avoid the burden of slavery on them, Las Casas proposed that African Negroes be brought to America instead, though he later changed his mind about this when he saw the effects of slavery on Africans.