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Velásquez, Diego de (c. 1465–1524)

Velásquez, Diego de (c. 1465–1524)

Diego de Velásquez (b. ca. 1465; d. 11/12 May 1524) Spanish explorer, conqueror, and first governor of Cuba (1514–1524). Born in the region of Segovia, in Old Castile, Velásquez left few records of his early life. He won early acclaim fighting with the Spanish forces in Italy and his reputation grew when he traveled to the New World on Columbus's second voyage in 1494. For his active role in the conquest of the natives on Hispaniola, he received land and encomiendas, amassing great wealth in agriculture. He served as lieutenant governor before being named to lead the expedition to conquer Cuba. Velásquez and three hundred men sailed for Cuba in 1511 and, upon arrival, founded Baracoa, establishing it as the island's first administrative headquarters. The conquest of the island, renowned for its barbarity, lasted three years and decimated the native population.

In 1515, Velásquez moved the capital to Santiago de Cuba. During his government, the center of Spanish activities in the New World shifted to Cuba and the island prospered under his capable leadership. In his latter years, dissension arose over many of his activities, including the use of Indian labor, leading to his dismissal as governor in 1521, though he regained the position in 1523. He died unexpectedly the next year. His wealth diminished with his losses from investments in exploration expeditions, like those of Francisco Hernández De Córdoba and of Hernán Cortés, yet at his death he was the richest Spaniard in the Americas. He created and organized a profitable and successful colony in Cuba; founded many towns whose names remain today; established a strong Spanish presence in the region, implanting her administration and her culture; and made Cuba a launching point for expeditions throughout the Western Hemisphere.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Spanish America .


Ramiro Guerra y Sánchez et al., A History of the Cuban Nation, vol. 1, translated by Emilio Chomat (1959).

Irene Wright, The Early History of Cuba, 1492–1586 (1916; rep. 1970).

Additional Bibliography

Miranda, Leocésar. Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar: Colonizador y primer gobernador de la isla de Cuba. Santiago de Cuba: Ediciones Santiago, 2004.

                              Jacquelyn Briggs Kent

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