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Pedrarias (Pedro Arias de Ávila)


by Kenny Lacey

Pedro Arias de Ávila, also referred to Pedrarias, was born in Segovia. Because of his marriage to Isabela de Bobadilla, one of the ladies in waiting of Queen Isabela la Católica, he had many higher connections. He served in Spain's African war as a colonel with distinction. He was appointed as the new governor of the province of Nueva Andalusia and parts of Castilla del Oro on July 27, 1513. This new united province, was given the name of Castilla Aurifica, also known as the Golden Castle, which extended as far as Veraguas. He was sent to Santa María la Antigua de Belén, to replace Balboa, after the King found out about Balboa's actions against Nicuesa and Enciso.

Pedrarias sailed from Lucar on April 11, 1514, with an army of eighteen ships and 1,500 men. Hernando DeSoto, accompanied Pedrarias on this expedition. They first arrived at Santa Marta, in Colombia, then moving on to Antigua, to oversee the changing of their government. They all participated in the overthrow of Nicuesa and Enciso. Except with some convincing by Balboa that they should welcome the new governor with open arms.

On June 30, 1514, Pedrarias arrived at Santa Maria la Antigua de Darién, and formally took control of the government. He asked Balboa to prepare a written report on all of his experiences and events that had occurred in the colony. Balboa prepared the document, giving strict details of all that took place during his command of the region. Soon as Pedrarias relieved the documents he turned on Balboa. Balboa, defended by the bishop and alcalde, was spared strict punishment.

During Pedrarias' first year, all sorts of problems ensued. Many men died, over 700 during the first four months, of disease. Famine became a problem, since most of the food brought from Spain, spoiled in the humid climate. Over a hundred colonists, abandoned Antigua and returned to Cuba, for simply the fact that they feared their life and also their health. King Ferdinand, ordered that settlements be established at different places in the new province of Castilla Aurifica and to explore the Mar del Sur, causing Pedrarias to release Balboa, and make use of his services. Pedrarias gave one of his daughters to Balboa as a wife, just as a cover up of his true hatred for him.

Pedrarias' forces had little luck, in establishing settlements, because of their bad treatment from the natives. This was due to the stealing of their gold. The natives were always attacking their settlements. Even the caciques that Balboa had peace treaties with were abused by the Spaniards.

In 1517, one of Pedrarias' commanders, Gaspar de Espinosa, established the town of Panamá, at a fisherman's hamlet the Indians called Panamá, as the most southern station on the line of outposts that crossed the Isthmus. Gabriel de Rojas, was left in Panamá with a small force, with the job of building a small fort and garrison. Pedrarias had written to the Spanish Court in 1516: "Your Highnesses should know that Panamá is a fishery on the coast of the South Sea and the fishermen are called Panamá by the Indians."

By this time, all of Balboa's work was presented to the King. The King than forgave Balboa, and appointed him as Adelantado of the South Sea. When Balboa heard of his appointment he immediately sent for the request for men and supplies from Cuba. This was to let him start his exploration of the South Sea. When Pedrarias heard of this, he had Balboa arrested again. Again, the bishop stepped in, and Balboa was released. Balboa, then proceeded to make plans for this exploration of the South Sea, and built four brigantines.

In 1515, reports were sent to the King about the continuing battles between Pedrarias and Balboa, and all of the obstructions Pedrarias was placing in front of Balboa's attempts at exploring the South Sea, and all the problems Pedrarias was having governing the new province. The King decided to replace Pedrarias with a new governor, but Pedrarias made an effort to get rid of Balboa, before the new governor arrived. Unfortunately for Balboa, his powerful friends in Santa Maria la Antigua de Darien, were in Spain at the time, and could not defend him. Balboa was charged, tried and quickly executed on April 16, 1517, along with some of his lieutenants and friends.

Pedrarias finally had his way, as acting governor of the province. Antigua was granted metropolitan status, with its own coat of arms, making it the first European city on the American continent. Pedrarias moved the seat of government from Santa Maria la Antigua de Darien to Panamá, even though Antigua had been granted metropolitan status. He took all of the men that wanted to go with him, all of the treasure he could, and the city counsel and administrators. On January, 1519, they went back to Panamá, and reestablished the post that had been abandoned back in 1517 Pedrarias arrived in Panamá on August 15, 1519, and officially founded the city of Nuestra Seńora de Asunción de Panamá in the name of Dońa Juana, the Queen of Castilla and Don Carlos.

In 1520, Lope de Sosa, the new governor arrived in Antigua. Just as Sosa was preparing to disembark, to assume his duties as the new governor, he died, and once again, Pedrarias string of luck continued, he proposed, for the second time, moving the capital to Panamá, but was opposed by Oviedo, who was now the Perpetual Regent. Pedrarias went to Panamá, and Oviedo stayed in Santa Maria la Antigua de Darien.

Pedrarias, with time, got rid of Oviedo. Antigua was eventually abandoned and the people moved to Acla del Nombre de Dios and Panamá. Panamá was given a coat of arms on September 15, 1521. The Episcopal Sea was transferred from Antigua in 1524. Panamá had now become the capital of Tierra Firme.

The crafty old man had won.