Reframing the Debate: Spain’s Colonization of the New World as Genocide

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Kristina Charleston


This paper is a detailed approach to the application of the term genocide in regard to the depopulation of the numerous native populaces of Mesoamerica in the first century after the arrival of Europeans. The factors considered for the application include the original definition intended by Raphael Lemkin, the legal definition adopted by the United Nations, and the popular understanding and use of it. Sources include multiple primary accounts from the perspective of both the Europeans and the indigenous peoples, as well as their contemporary legal documents used to justify their actions. Contemporary sources range from Raphael Lemkin, The United Nations, and Mesoamerican Colonial historians. While unintentional disease epidemics were the primary source of depopulation, genocide simultaneously occurred with the intent and understanding that it was transpiring, despite the lack of a proper name for it at the time. By focusing on the term’s origin, influence, and intended application in relation to historical documents, the goal of this paper is to highlight the alignment of the term genocide and the events that took place shortly after the European arrival in the Americas, thus turning the controversy that surrounds the sensationalist oversimplified application of the term genocide into a leveled and scholarly approach that examines multiple perspectives and intents.


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