Synopsis by Clarke Fountain
The son of one of Columbus' soldiers, Bartolomé de las Casas was educated at the University of Salamanca, taking a law degree there. In 1502 he joined conquistador Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in what was then the largest military expedition ever to set sail from Spain. In 1510, he became the first man consecrated to the priesthood in the New World. He was 36 at the time. The next year he went along with the men who set out to occupy Cuba. There, he witnessed the brutal treatment and enslavement of that island's native people, including the execution of one of their great chiefs, a man whose life he tried to save. At the time of the early Spanish conquests, it was customary for the conquerors to take any natives they captured who survived the ordeal and give them as slaves to reward the conquerors, along with grants of land. The brutality of this practice, along with many similar ones, moved de las Casas to journey back to Spain to try and win support from the monarchy for more humane treatment of the indigenous people coming under the yoke of Spanish rule. Though he largely succeeded in his appeals to the monarch, eventually winning approval of an edict mandating better treatment, it was widely ignored by the military rulers of the New World colonies. Despite this, he devoted much of the rest of his life to improving conditions for "indios," or native people in the new Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and in Central America. This biographical drama is based on a play which celebrated the life of this pioneer, whose name is used today as a banner for indigenous peoples' rights movements throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Fr. de las Casas wrote several important works during these early days of the conquest, in particular his "Hístory of the Indies."