Jerald T. Milanich
Scholars continue to argue whether Columbus was the first European to reach the Caribbean islands or other New World shores and whether we can even say he discovered anything because the lands he visited were already inhabited by millions of people. But what is certain is that Columbus's voyages, beginning in 1492, opened the way for a major exchange of people, resources, and ideas.
It is unfortunate that the exchange was largely stimulated by European desires to possess the wealth of the Caribbean and the Americas, wealth that was laid open by the European voyages of exploration. Spain and other countries hastened to extract riches and to conquer the native Americans and colonize their lands. Their success spelled disaster for the people of the New World. It is estimated that today only one native American exists for every one hundred who lived in the New World in 1492. The major languages used throughout the Western Hemisphere are English, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and various Creole dialects, while native American cultures and languages are increasingly endangered.
A major reason for the success of Spain and the other European monarchies was that European diseases introduced by the earliest expeditions and African diseases transmitted by the African slave trade