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
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.
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.
Division of the world by the Inter
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.