The Spanish are the power in the Caribbean. Their holdings are vast, they straddle two continents. They have more soldiers and guns then anyone else. They have a seemingly endless stream of treasure flowing through their hands. Their fleets are huge and they are totally ruthless.
But for all their strengths they also have weaknesses that make them vulnerable.
Yes, their holdings are huge, but much of it is theirs in name only, with control limited to the reach of their pikes and the range of their muskets. Communication is a big problem, many of their settlements are isolated by dense jungle, impassable mountains and fever ridden swamps. The bulk of their military power is tied up guarding these distant settlements from their many enemies, and maintaining their hold on the hundreds of thousands of slaves, Black Africans, Amerindians, white Europeans and mixed groups, that provide the labor that makes the treasure flow. And their ruthlessness has garnered them many enemies, both local and worldwide, who hate the Spanish and covet their wealth. Who would like nothing better then to sack, burn and conquer all the lands of New Spain, Andalusia and the rest of the Spanish Main.
The Spanish Main The Spanish Main
As far as the Spanish are concerned, all the lands of the Caribbean, and almost all the lands of the New World and beyond, legally belong to Spain. They even have a document proving it.
‘ Inter caetera’ (“Among other [works]”) was a papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493, which granted to Spain (the Crowns of Castile and Aragon) all lands to the “west and south” of a pole-of-pole line 100 leagues west and south of any of the islands of the Azores or the Cape Verde Islands.
Inter caetera states: “… we (the Papacy) command you (Spain) … to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents and dwellers therein in the Catholic faith, and train them in good morals.” This papal command marked the beginning of colonization and Catholic Missions in the New World. An important, if initially unintended, effect of this papal bull (and several subsequent bulls and treaties) was that nearly all the Pacific Ocean, and the west coast of North America were given to Spain. Moreover, in the bull Dudum siquidem dated September 25, 1493 entitled Extension of the Apostolic Grant and Donation of the Indies, the Pope granted to Spain even those lands in eastern waters that “at one time or even yet belonged to India.”
Various modifications to the original bull, negotiated between Spain and Portugal (which at that time was a major colonizing power) eventually divided the earth into two hemispheres; The west which included almost all the New World, except for parts of Brazil, and almost all the Pacific and the shores touched by it, which were given to Spain. And the east, excluding all the Christian kingdoms, but covered just about everything else including Africa and that part of Brazil that juts out past the pole to pole line west of the Azores, were given to Portugal.
The Requerimiento (Spanish “requirement” as in “demand”) was a declaration of sovereignty and war read by Spanish military forces to assert their sovereignty over the Americas. Written by Juan López de Palacios Rubios, it was used to justify their assertion that God, through Jesus Christ and His Papal successors, held authority as ruler over the entire Earth, and that the Inter Caetera, conferred title over the Americas to the Spanish monarchs.
Because of this claim the Spanish deeply resent the incursions by the English, French and Dutch into the Caribbean and the coast of South and Central America. Every foreign settlement and colony is seen as trespassers, brigands, smugglers, pirates or thieves. When opportunity presents the Spanish will sieze the chance to evict the interlopers and reclaim that which is lawfully theirs.
Most of the time the Spanish governors lack the forces needed to execute these evictions. Their military forces are always needed to guard and protect and the distances are often too great to mount simple expeditions with local resources.
However, when the Treasure Fleet arrrives from Spain, things are different. The ‘Flota’ the civilian ships and the ‘Armada’ the military ships, are packed with goods, supplies, munitions and reinforcements. Not only is this surplus available, but most of the Armada is available, until the fleet is ready for its return trip, to transport the soldiers and supplies and support the attacks that the Governors have planned. It is during these periods, around three or four months of the year, that the Spanish are strong enough to undertake military expeditions against pirate and smuggler dens. Major military operations, like the reconquest of Jamaica, are not undertaken without the approval of the Crown, but stomping out nests like New Providence or Tortuga are within the authority of the local Governors and especially the Virreinato, the Viceroyalty or Viceroy who is the Crown’s appointed ruler for vast stretches of the Spanish Empire.
The Vice Royalty of New Spain, with its capital in Mexico City, rules over Spain’s territory in Mexico, Central and North America, the Caribbean and the Philippines. (Venezuela, in South America, was at times attached to the Viceroyalty of New Spain.)
The Viceroyalty of Peru, (New Andalusia) with its capital in Lima, rules over all of Spain’s territory in South America.
Just recently (1717) a new Viceroyalty has been added in New Granada, it has its capital in Bogata.
All of New Spain, New Andalusia, and New Granada and the islands are under the oppressive yoke of the Quinto, or ‘Fifth.’ A Crown-enforced tax upon exported goods. The quinto goes towards paying for armed escorts on large shipments to and from Spain. This practice is in response to the pirates and privateers operating in the Florida channel, preying upon Spanish convoys.
The quinto is one of the principal reasons that smuggling in and out of Spanish colonies is big business in the Caribbean. The Spanish Crown makes little distinction between pirates and smugglers, treating them all with the same heavy handedness
What ever the position of the Spanish Crown, the reality in the colonies varies considerably. Spanish merchants and even the Nobles, are hungry for cheap goods and products from other parts of the world then Spanish controlled areas. The local authorities often look the other way when goods are loaded or off loaded, a bit of cash aiding in their distraction, or adopt the pretense that they in fact have no choice but to conduct illegal trade since the evil pirates so clearly out gun the local defenses.