Maracaibo 1671 – Nick Finneran

(Excerpt from Nick Finneran’s Cay Sal Bank, Authorhouse, 2005, available at www.nickfinneran.com)

“Ten years at the most!  Ten years and they will all be slaughtered by my mighty sword!  Those English scoundrels, the Dutchmen, and those godless Caribe and Arawak Indians.  All of them dirty!  All of them damned!”

The famous Spanish Admiral, Alonzo Sanchez-Sabanilla, stood on the easternmost tower of the Spanish fortifications of the small but strategic port city of Maracaibo.  Maracaibo was a hundred years old, having been founded in 1571 by Alonso Pacheco.  To the Admiral’s east was the land called Paraguana, and many thousands of miles of jungle.  These were the lands that would one day be called Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and Mexico.  To the west was the land called Guajira, and many more thousands of miles of jungle that would one day be called Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil.  These were the lands of the Spanish Main – The glorious world of riches that belonged to His Catholic Majesty, the King of Spain.

To the south of the city of Maracaibo was the great Lake Maracaibo, which was discovered in 1499 by the Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda.  Admiral Sanchez-Sabanilla marveled at the size of the lake – 5,100 square miles, surrounded by low mountains and forests, filled by the great rivers Catatumbo, Zulia, Escalante, Chanudo, Ceniza, Sant’Ana, Negro, Apan and Palmar.  Lake Maracaibo was over a hundred miles long – surely the largest lake in the Americas.

Scattered along the coast of the lake were the tiny Caribe and Arawak fishing villages.  Why the godless Indians wanted to live in such a miserable existence in those tiny thatched huts on stilts was beyond the Admiral’s comprehension.  Conversion to Christianity was the only solution for these wretched souls.  Perhaps they should all be shipped off to the Peruvian mines, like the Indians of Hispaniola.

To the north of the city of Maracaibo was the Bahia de Tablazo, and further north still was the larger Golfo de Venezuela.  North of the Gulf was the greatest Spanish lake of all – the Caribbean Sea.

Outside the mouth of the Gulf was the tiny island of Aruba, where a small handful of Dutch traders and settlers had begun to move in.  “We will deal with those pesky Dutchmen soon enough,” thought the Admiral.  Beyond the island of Aruba, and across the Caribbean Sea, was His Catholic Majesty’s great island colony of Havana, on the island called Cuba.  To the east of Cuba was Hispaniola – the island that was first colonized by the great Admiral Christopher Columbus.  Further to the east was Puerto Rico, with its main settlement of San Juan.

Off the southwest corner of Hispaniola was the island of Jamaica, which was owned by the English.  Those English will be driven from the Caribbean in good time, thought Sanchez-Sabanilla.  As soon as we are not so preoccupied with our work on the mainland, we will retake Jamaica from the Protestants, and put them all to the sword.

The Admiral was tall and strongly built, with graying hair.  In his gold-braided blue dress uniform, he was a handsome man for his fifty years of age.  He had enjoyed a distinguished Navy career.  He had served as Captain of the great galleon Nuestra Señora de Barcelona.  He had become Admiral of the Mediterranean fleet.  And finally, in his golden years, he had been sent to the Americas, and given the opportunity to make an even greater name for himself and his family.  He had already arranged to have his sons and nephews placed into important government jobs.  His eldest stepson Eduardo Joya-Sabanilla and his nephew Juan Salazar were both Navy Captains.  With the right sponsorship, they would both become Admirals in His Catholic Majesty’s Navy.

Every day, except Sunday, the Admiral awoke before dawn to watch the sun rise over Paraguana.  Every night, just like tonight, he watched the sun set over Guajira.  The Admiral looked to the north across the Gulf and smiled.  He felt the warm land breeze on the back of his neck, and he watched the sky acquire its late afternoon yellow tint.  In a short while, the sky would shift to orange, and then red.  Finally, darkness would set on His Catholic Majesty’s Spanish Main.

The Admiral closed his eyes and made a mental picture of his Caribbean Sea in his mind – the Greater Antilles to the north, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands to the east, the Isthmus of Panama to the west, and the great waters in between.  The final rays of the day’s sunshine warmed the Admiral’s big round chest.  He smiled.

“Such a remarkable Spanish Lake!” said the Admiral aloud, to no one in particular.

The Admiral had a warm confidence that the riches of the Americas would last a thousand years, and that the Sanchez-Sabanilla family would grow even more prosperous.  The Admiral smiled again, and the corner whiskers of his big black moustache pointed up into the air.

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