When did Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica become Spanish Colonies and What happened to the Natives?

Two men who had sailed with Columbus conquered the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico soon after Columbus’s death.

In 1511, Spanish soldier Diego de Velazquez (c. 1465, c. 1524) began his conquest of Cuba by founding Baracoa, the first Spanish colony on the island. Appointed governor of Cuba, he founded Havana, the present-day capital of Cuba, in 1514.

Beginning in 1508, Juan Ponce de Leon (c. 1460-1521) conquered the island he named Puerto Rico, Spanish for “rich port.” He governed it from 1509 to 1512 and founded a settlement called Caparra (1511). The settlement was relocated and renamed San Juan, the present-day capital, in 1521.

Jamaica, another West Indian island, was conquered by the Spanish in 1509. Its capital, Santiago de la Vega (now Spanish Town), was founded about 1525. Jamaica’s current capital is Kingston.

Wherever the Spanish went in the West Indies, they enslaved the local Native Americans, just as they had in Hispaniola. Slavery led quickly to extermination.

In Puerto Rico, for example, Ponce de Left shot six thousand Arawak for rebelling against his harsh rule. An epidemic of smallpox, a disease imported from the Old World, wiped out most of the rest.