The Spanish colonization of the Americas was driven by an implacable pursuit of wealth, in particular gold. Accordingly, they settled only the main islands of the Caribbean, as entreports for the trade with the mineral rich mainland. To man their operations, they enslaved the native American populations, but when these were largely eliminated by the catastrophic impact of European diseases, the systematic importation of African slaves began. Santo Domingo on Hispaniola (modern Haiti) became the main Spanish centre in the Caribbean, with the first Audiencia, or Royal Court, in the Americas established there in 1526. The astonishing wealth of Spain’s American colonies attracted the attention of Europe’s other maritime powers. The British first began to prey on the Spanish cargo convoys through privateering. Then, from 1616, the Dutch colonized Essequibo on the mainland, and scattered islands commencing with Curacao. From 1627, the French and British shared out the Windwards.
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