Evaluating Sources & Using Evidence

How did Europeans lay claim to the land of Central America?

Proclamation – All Lands Belongs to the Catholic Pope

  • A “Proclamation required to be made by every chief of an expedition [of Spanish conquistadors] to the Indians at the moment of disembarking” states the following:
  • God made St. Peter lord and superior of all of the people on earth.
  • Peter’s successors are the Popes of the Catholic Church, so each Pope is considered Lord, King and Superior of the Universe.
  • In 1493 Pope Alexander VI established the line of demarcation, revised further west in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), awarding control of the lands west of the line to Spain, and the lands east to Portugal.
  • The “Proclamation” continued that Pope Alexander VI, “the pontiff,” donated these islands and mainland to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile, Spain.
  • Therefore, all who reside on this land should subject themselves to the Spanish royals and become good Christians, recognizing the authority of the Catholic Church.
  • If they do not, their wives and children will be taken as sold as slaves, and their property will be taken.

Source: “Proclamation.”  Found in its original Spanish in Ancona, Eligio, “Historia de Yucatán:  Desde la época más remota hasta nuestros dias,” Volume 1 – Primary source edition, Document 4, pp. 391-393.  The English translation of this “Proclamation” can be found in the following.

  • De Landa, F.D. (1566), Yucatán Before and After the Conquest. translated by Gates, William E. (1978), New York, NY;  Dover Publications, Inc., originally published  in 1937 by the Maya Society of Baltimore (Publication Number 20).
  • “ambergriscaye.com,” retrieved July 3, 2020 at: https://ambergriscaye.com/landa/ybac66.htm


De Landa’s writing on the Maya of Yucatán is widely acknowledged as the principal source of modern knowledge about the Maya, in part because this Franciscan missionary also burned and destroyed much of the Maya’s ancient written records.

William E. Gates, 1937

(Gates, 1978, Introduction, pp. vi-viii).

  • Mayan society was based on communalism, “a community-approved principle of social order and cooperation in the vital necessities of production and distribution.”
  • Communalism is thus distinct from “communism,” which can be defined as “common ownership,” or “the denial of cooperative ownership, and atheism.”


Bringing the theory into the present, Gates offered the following analysis, one which can be compared and contrasted to the situation in Central America.

  • “And today…the same Mexico and Yucatán are effectively giving scope and freedom to that age-long ingrained Indian principle of town community action; a system that through freedom to work and produce without being robbed, gives spur to the desire to learn how to work better, produce better, in—yes—social security.”
  • “The peasant farmer, on his own land, educated to his station, does not have to deny ‘God’ because he goes to a local school to learn better how to treat his ‘great mother’ the land, or to work a motor.”
  • “To the Indian, far more truly religious than we are, ‘God’ is the beneficent (and therefore divine) overruling force that shines on all and aids nature to produce, in her (and his) ceaseless struggle to produce and grow; for there can be no production without hard labor, nor growth without struggle.”
  • “And the hardest of the struggle is with those who want to control others.”


Source:  De Landa, F.D. (1566), Yucatán Before and After the Conquest.  translated by Gates, William E. (1978), New York, NY;  Dover Publications, Inc., originally published  in 1937 by the Maya Society of Baltimore (Publication Number 20).

The following accounts and interpretations of history are taken from the Center for Justice & Accountability, an organization that seeks to prosecute war criminals and human right violators, hold them criminally accountable in national courts, and develop human rights policy in the U.S.

The descriptions below are found in the “Where We Work” link of CJA’s website:  www.cja.org

El Salvador

  • Since the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, a single resource has dominated El Salvador: land.
  • Like its Central American neighbors, El Salvador was organized into a giant plantation for luxury commodities: cocoa, indigo and,
    in the 1800s, coffee.
  • Independence only shifted control from the Spanish to Salvadorans of European ancestry.
  • Indigenous peoples and mestizos, comprising 95% percent of the population, were reduced to virtual serfdom, while a small minority of landholders called the “Fourteen Families” ruled through a long series of military dictatorships.
  • It is along these fault lines – between peasant and planter, European and native –that cycles of violence have erupted throughout El Salvador’s troubled history.


  • The roots of the Guatemalan civil war reach back through nearly 500 years of violence and ethnic exclusion.
  • The Spanish conquest of Guatemala replaced the  socio-economic order of the ancient Mayan civilization with a harsh plantation economy based on forced labor.
  • Although Guatemala gained independence in 1821, it continued to be ruled by a series of military dictators aligned with the landed oligarchy.