How the Conquest of Indigenous Peoples Parallels the Conquest of Nature
The King of Spain was embarrassed by all the reports about the cruelty of the conquistadors. He wasn’t happy that they were getting out of hand and escaping the crown’s control over them, so in 1550 he called for a debate. Juan Gines de Sepulveda and Bartolomé de Las Casas, two priests who were also lawyers, stepped forward to make the arguments. Sepulveda took the point of view of the conquerers. He’s called the father of modern racism because of that. He concocted every excuse he could think of to explain why it was all right for the Spanish to do what they were doing to the Indians, and of course he started off with what the Indians were not—they were not Christian and they were not civilized; therefore, the Spanish were justified in treating them as they did.
Sepulveda would have used pretty much the same language and the same reasoning to explain why the Spanish were justified in doing what they did to the parrots, to the trees, to the fish, to every living organism on those islands: they were all biologically inferior beings lacking the consciousness and culture of Spaniards. They didn’t have any rights and therefore could be enslaved and subjected to whatever the Spanish felt like subjecting them to—and the Spanish didn’t need to have a bad conscience.