I watched a lovely film the other night- a Spanish language film called Even The Rain.
A Spanish film crew helmed by idealistic director Sebastian (Gael García Bernal) and his cynical producer Costa (Luis Tosar) come to Bolivia to make a revisionist epic about the conquest of Latin America – on the cheap. Carlos Aduviri is dynamic as “Daniel,” a local cast as a 16th century native in the film within a film. When the make-up and loin cloth come off, Daniel sails into action protesting his community’s deprivation of water at the hands of multi-national corporations.
When riots break out in Cochabamba, protesting excessive fees for water, production is interrupted and the convictions of the crew members are challenged. Sebastian and Costa are forced to make an unexpected emotional journey in opposite directions.
It may sound a bit ‘worthy’, but it was very well made, well acted, and full of sharp irony. The crew were fired up by the injustice and genocide waged on the indigenous people of the new world by the Conquistadors, but found the modern day equivalent injustice inflicted by poverty and multinational corporations almost invisible.
Along the way we heard a lot about Bartholme de las Casas.
I confess I had never heard of him. I have been fascinated (and horrified) by how the conquerors of the New World were able to believe that they were doing God’s work as the slaughtered and plundered in the name of the Holy Empire. It is refreshing and inspiring to discover a man of God who called it for what it was.
Arriving as one of the first settlers in the New World he participated in, and was eventually compelled to oppose the atrocities committed against the Native Americansby the Spanish colonists. In 1515, he reformed his views, gave up his Indian slaves and encomienda, and advocated, before King Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, on behalf of rights for the natives. In his early writings, he advocated the use of African slaves instead of Natives in the West-Indian colonies; consequently, criticisms have been leveled at him as being partly responsible for the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade. Later in life, he retracted those early views as he came to see all forms of slavery as equally wrong…
Bartolomé de las Casas spent 50 years of his life actively fighting slavery and the violent colonial abuse of indigenous peoples, especially by trying to convince the Spanish court to adopt a more humane policy of colonization. And although he failed to save the indigenous peoples of the Western Indies, his efforts resulted in several improvements in the legal status of the natives, and in an increased colonial focus on the ethics of colonialism. Las Casas is often seen as one of the first advocates for universal human rights
Don’t forget that all this was taking place 200 years before Wilberforce, our great protestant anti slavery hero.
Neither was Casas alone.
In September 1510, a group of Dominican friars arrived in Santo Domingo led by Pedro de Córdoba; appalled by the injustices they saw committed by the slaveowners against the Indians, they decided to deny slave owners the right to confession. Las Casas was among those denied confession for this reason. In December 1511, a Dominican preacher Father Fray Antonio de Montesinos preached a fiery sermon that implicated the colonists in the genocide of the native peoples. He is said to have preached, “Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before. Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day.”
These men were serving the Kingdom of God in the shadow of the Empire, and for this we can call them Heroes.