Consult, not secondary sources written centuries later by individuals with a political agenda, but primary (i.e., contemporary) sources in the original Spanish: Los Cuatro Viajes del Almirante y su Testamento, and, Brevísima Relación de la Destrucción de las Indias, both by Bartolomé de las Casas. De las Casas, as every schoolchild in the Caribbean and Spain knows, was The Apostle of the Indians, an indefatigable defender of the Indians who fulminated endlessly against the Spanish crimes on the indigenous people. More importantly, he chronicled the atrocities against the Indians, fearlessly naming the criminals. Not once does he mention Columbus as an evildoer. On the contrary, he documented the exact opposite, that Columbus repeatedly defended the Indians against Spanish depredations.
Here is an example of Zinn’s lies: “At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two Arawaks were run through with swords and bled to death.”
This incident occurred on the return trip from his first voyage. Hitherto, whenever Indians had been encountered, they had initially run away, thinking that the explorers were cannibals. The Arawaks/Tainos were constantly terrorized by seafaring cannibals. Cannibals ranged widely among the islands in boats, landing and capturing their meals; they would take them home alive and if, they were adult males, were castrated in order to improve their flavor. The cannibals (aka Caribs/Caribes/Canibas) had a technological advantage: powerful bows and arrows, whereas the other Indians only had sticks. When it was clear that the Spaniards were not cannibals, the Indians welcomed them, thinking that they came from heaven. A brisk trade ensued for the gold nuggets that the natives wore. In Hispaniola, the gold was so abundant that nuggets could be found among the tree roots (gold was the only metal they knew since they were still in the Stone Age). Initially, he kidnapped a handful of Indians in order to learn the language, which he learned in a matter of days; later as they made landfall in numerous places, they refused to go back home and, in one instance, another native went aboard the ship wanting to travel with the explorers in spite of his family’s pleas to return (if an alien spaceship landed, wouldn’t you like to travel back with them?). Incidentally, all the natives were naked, not wearing even a loin cloth, and some tribes’ members were as white as Europeans. Again, and again, Columbus ordered his men not to steal anything and to respect the Indians, to trade, not steal.
When Columbus encountered the island that Zinn mentions, the dynamics were different. The natives (cannibals, not Arawaks/Tainos) did not initially run away but went towards the lifeboat with their bows and arrows, screaming and “looking ferocious.” Undoubtedly, they were surprised that anyone would be so stupid as to come to them. The natives were told to leave their bows, arrows, and ropes off to one side. Columbus traded for two bows (he had collected plants, animals, foods, and crafts to take back as proof of his voyage), but the natives refused to trade any more. When the Spaniards were about to leave, the fifty cannibals ran to their bows and arrows and the ropes with which to tie up their dinner and rushed to the seven Spaniards to overwhelm them. For once, their dinner fought back. One cannibal was stabbed in the buttocks and another in the chest, whereupon they all fled. None “bled to death.”
During the second voyage, they entered a deserted village, they found a human arm in the process of being roasted and pots full of human bones. The captured noncannibal women begged to be taken away.
They also found out that the cannibals had a curious arrangement: their women lived apart in another island; periodically, they got together to mate. The boys would then be brought up by the men and the girls by the women. The women could use the bow and arrow and were described as “very stout.” One of these women tripped up a sailor, jumped on him, and almost strangled him to death, but he was saved by the arrival of his companions.
Incidentally, cannibalism was very popular among the indigenous people in South America, not so much in North America.
So, as can be seen, Zinn’s account has just enough details to seem truthful. But a mountain of details is deliberately left out that gives a totally different picture. This is a common tactic. By being brief, yet accusatory, it is like a drive-by shooting.
And this brings us to Michele de Cuneo’s letter, written somewhat around 1511, wherein he relates that Columbus gave him a young girl to rape during the voyage back. This is seen as contemporary proof of Columbus’ demonic character. There is just one little problem. It is a fraud. Aside from internal inconsistencies, the letter also mentions temples in the Caribbean. There were no temples in the Caribbean; the naked Indians lived in crude huts. Temples would come into play later, after Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs (1519-1521).