Saturday, 11 January 2014

Vasco Núñez de Balboa

Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475?-1519), Spanish explorer in America. He was born in Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain. Considered the first of the conquistadors (leaders of the Spanish conquest in the western hemisphere), Balboa is best known as the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. Balboa sailed to Venezuela in 1501 with an expedition led by Rodrigo de Bastidas. After exploring the southwestern Caribbean area with Bastidas, he became a planter on the island of Hispaniola. By 1510 the plantation had failed. Deep in debt and anxious to escape his creditors, Balboa fled to the settlement of San Sebastián on the coast of Colombia. When he found that San Sebastián had been attacked by Native Americans and was in ruins, Balboa persuaded its settlers to move to the Isthmus of Panama, which he had explored with Bastidas. There they founded a new settlement at Darién, and Balboa was elected governor. He arrested the expedition leader, whom Spain had chosen as governor, and sent him back to Spain. Balboa explored the inland areas and brought the Native Americans under Spanish rule. Unlike later conquistadors, he utilized diplomacy instead of force in dealing with the Native Americans. In 1513 Balboa was accused of treason by his enemies in Spain, who turned the king against him. In hope of winning the king’s favor with some new discovery, Balboa decided to find the rumored great sea on the other side of the isthmus. In September 1513, with 190 Spanish soldiers and 1000 Native Americans, he made the arduous westward journey from the Atlantic side of the isthmus through some of the thickest jungles on the continent. On September 29 he reached his destination, named it Mar del Sur (South Sea), and claimed it for Spain. It was later named the Pacific Ocean by Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan in 1520. Balboa notified Spain of his discovery and sent gifts of gold and pearls he had found. The king, however, sent a new governor, Pedrarias Dávila, to be Balboa’s superior. The two became bitter rivals. Balboa’s successes caused Pedrarias to envy and hate him. Pedrarias had him arrested, convicted of treason, and beheaded in January 1519. Panama honors Balboa by naming its monetary unit, the balboa, after him.

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