Dr Gonzalo M. Quintero Saravia On October 5, 2009 an article by William Cook under the title, "Toxic legacy of Christopher Columbus", appeared in The Nation. Since it contains certain false facts and highly questionable opinions on many issues that could affect the image not only of my own country but also an impartial analysis of world history, I feel compelled to set the record straight. On the other hand, I must confess that I really dont see the point of the article itself. Is it to blame Columbus for the present situation in the Middle East? Or to hold responsible the Pilgrim Fathers for the Israeli policies in Palestine? I must admit, that its main purpose escapes me. The whole article is based on the premise that both Columbus and the Puritans shared a mental-framework that resulted in the same consequences both in Latin and North America, and the rest of the world. But it is very difficult, not to say impossible, to attribute both with the same mindset. On the one hand, its a simple question of chronology: Columbus sailed at the end of the XIVth century while the Pilgrims arrived to Plymouth Rock 128 years after, in 1620. Arguing that both shared the same kind of mental picture is the same as to equate the mindset of Tamerlane (1336-1405) and Emperor Akbar (1542-1605). Furthermore, we do not need to unearth the classic study of Max Weber, written in 1904, to remind us about the enormous differences between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant colonisation. On top of all this, the Spanish American empire was built, mainly, over two of the most advanced civilisations humanity has ever known, the Aztec and the Inca; whereas the English and the French in North America confronted a wide variety of hunter and gatherer cultures that never attained the stage of what anthropologists call organised state societies. This fact alone has enormous implications. In the Spanish case, in order to conquer, the conquistadors had to defeat structured armies and then place themselves on the top of the pre-existent social structure. On the other hand, the French and the English, but also the Spanish in the margins of their American empire, confronted a mosaic of different groups that must be defeated one by one in order to effectively control the territory. In this second case the easiest answer was simply to subdue them, either militarily, physically, culturally or commercially. Last but not least, in a list that can be much longer, the structure of both American empires was so different that the similarities between them are not easy to find. These differences in the structure produced an unprecedented and unique case in history: an Empire in which its richest city, both in economic and cultural terms, was not the capital in the metropolis but one located in the territory of its colonies. During the XVIII century Mexico City, the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, was in the centre of the commerce between Asia and Europe and was greatly populated, richer and culturally much more active than Madrid. So it should be clear by now that bringing together under the same hat, both the Pilgrim Fathers and Columbus is a very dangerous exercise that could lead to easy manipulation. To describe what happened in America, after the arrival of the Europeans - Spanish, French, Dutch or English - as the greatest holocaust the world has ever known, is difficult to subscribe to. Holocaust is defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as the systematic state-sponsored killing of Jews and others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. Whatever angle you choose to look from, the Spanish conquest and colonisation of the American continent, it is impossible to affirm that the millions of deaths among the indigenous population were product of a systematic state-sponsored killing. In the first place, because most of the dead were simply not killed but died because of Eurasian origin diseases that were introduced by the conquistadors. Regarding the total population in America before the arrival of the Europeans the author says that an estimated 10-18 million people lived and loved in what we call now the United States. I must confess that I specially like the live and loved bit, yes they lived, and loved, and ate, and were in war with each other, and hunted, and died. But returning to the question of the number of people in America before Columbus, the only safe thing to say is, maybe, that it is still under discussion among historians and anthropologists. In 1976 William Denevan produced a so-called consensus count of about 54 million Americans, and no more than a tenth of this continental total can be ascribed to a then poorly populated region as the present US. So not more than 5-6 million instead of the 10-18 the author claims. Whatever the total number, the truth is that shortly after the irruption of the Europeans between half and two-thirds of the population had died. The conquistadors were ruthless, otherwise their feats would have been impossible, but they were not stupid. They needed the natives. What was the use of having large extensions of lands if you lacked the labour force to cultivate it? But the essence of the debate is not about the numbers. In this context its important to consider if the killing, when it took place, was systematic and state-sponsored. And the findings will inevitably conclude that this was never the case. On the contrary, from the very beginning the Spanish Crown tried to refrain and, whenever possible, to punish the cruelty employed by the conquistadors. And this again, for very practical reasons. The conquest of America was largely a private enterprise and the history of the Spanish Empire can be read as the struggle by the Crown to limit the power of the conquistadors and their successors in order to effectively control its Empire. And in this struggle for the reassertion of its authority, in America as in Castille, the Crown allied itself with the commoners against the nobility, or in American terms, with the Indians against the Creoles, producing an overwhelming amount of legislation to protect the natives against the abuses of the latter. Among this legislation was the requerimiento, which the author of the article utterly fails to understand and compares with certain practices he associates with former US Vice-President, Dick Cheney. In fact this institution, as absurd as it may sound to XXI century ears, was conceived with the idea of protecting the indigenous people against unlawful attacks against them by greedy conquistadors. Futile as it may have seemed, this piece of paper has been considered one huge step towards the birth of International Law. The idyllic portrait of the life of pre-European natives, presented by the author of the article, was very fashionable during the times of the enlightenment, but since then a much harsh reality has made its way through. The myth of the noble savage, was a product of a concrete period and for very concrete reasons and it should be considered nothing but that, a myth. Also, the present academic debate is well beyond the stage where the purpose was to find villains to be blamed. If all of the above was not enough to mark the enormous differences between the Spanish and the English colonisation models, if those models really ever existed, one more fact could be put forward. Far from having what the author says was a Euro centric racist mindset, the Spaniards mixed their blood with the local population, a thing that has not happened in other cases of colonial expansion. Certainly not between the Pilgrims and their descendants and the natives - the case of Pocahontas being an exception. For the Spanish, intercultural marriages were the rule. The consequences of this simple fact permeate even the relations between present day Spaniards with their relatives from the other side of the Atlantic. The intellectual exercise of comparing different so-called models of colonisation is a very difficult one. It has been done before, and John H Elliots masterpiece proves that it can be done successfully; but to be able to do so requires intellectual honesty, deep knowledge and an opened mind. And in the article by William Cook we are unable to trace any of those. The writer is a correspondent member of The Royal Academy of History (Spain) and The Colombian Academy of History (Colombia)