Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Spain: Many Happy Returns? Celebrating the Abolition of Slavery

Whilst the bicentenary of the British abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade is something to celebrate, the occasion is an apt moment to draw attention to the continuing existence of slavery in new forms around the world. The Olive Press investigates Spain’s historic role in the slave trade as well as the types of slavery which are becoming entrenched here today - finding some disturbing parallels along the way.

Celebrations are taking place to mark the 200th anniversary of the UK abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Important as this milestone may be however, the transportation and use of African people for free labour actually continued long after abolition, with the Spanish continuing to use slaves abroad until 1886.

Spain’s role in the slave trade was pivotal: the country already owned around 10,000 North African slaves or ladinos by the time of the reconquista (re-conquest from the Moors) in the 15th century. Spain’s further conquests across the Americas wiped out much of the indigenous populations, thus creating a need to import sub-Saharan African slaves (bozales) to work in the mines. Spain depended upon foreign slave ships known as slavers to supply Africans to its colonies and continued this practice well beyond the abolition treaties of the early 19th century.

After losing most of its colonies, Spain persisted in using slaves in an attempt to maintain those territories that remained - with Cuba being the recipient of the last recorded slaver in 1867, although slavery continued for a further 20 years on the island.
The administrative centre of colonial Spain was undoubtedly Sevilla. This Andaluz city had the exclusive right to trade with the colonies in the Americas from its Trading House (Casa de ContrataciĆ³n) and the docks of Sevilla were the embarkation point for every ship bound for the Americas...


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