Tuesday, December 9, 2014

April 22, 1539 - Treaty of Zaragoza Wins the Philippines for Portugal

The discovery of a western hemisphere by Christopher Columbus sparked a land-grab by Spain in islands and mainland territory. Its Iberian neighbor Portugal also had a huge expeditionary force that had been cultivated for years through rulers such as Henry the Navigator pushing south and eastward around Africa's Cape of Good Hope toward India. Now that Portugal, too, looked to claim western land since it had been granted the right to any claim south of the Canary Islands by papal bull. Further papal bulls tried to sort the issue out, but at last the two were satisfied only with the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas that granted the east (most importantly, India and its spices) to Portugal and anything 100 leagues west of the Canaries to Spain.
Initially, the agreement worked well. Even in 1500 when Portuguese explorers found the tip of Brazil to be within the western reaches of their territory, the Spanish did not balk. Problems, however, began to arise as Magellan's voyage circumnavigated the Earth in 1519-1522. The Portuguese Empire had discovered and conquered the Indonesian Molucca islands in 1521, filled with exotic spices like nutmeg and cloves. Its great potential wealth caused Spain to announce that the Moluccas lay within western Spanish territory, a point they defended by Magellan's claim of the Philippines to the northwest of the islands. Since neither party had discussed where the east-west lines crossed, no one had a clear answer.
The overlap debate turned violent when Spanish king Charles V sent an expedition to found a fort in the Moluccas. Short rounds of fighting broke out between the Spanish and Portuguese there, and Charles V and John III determined to find the proper anti-meridian that would be the legitimate halfway point of the line created at Tordesillas. The best cartographers in each court made recommendations, and a treaty was proposed at the Spanish city of Zaragoza granting Asia to Portugal and the Pacific to Spain with the East Indies divided east of the Moluccas.

As the Portuguese reviewed the treaty, an aide happened to mention there was no formal relinquishment of the Philippines. Rather than take it as an understanding that could cause problems later, the Portuguese now demanded the islands. Despite his potential for a strong argument thanks to Magellan's claim, Charles V granted Portugal the islands. He was eager for Portuguese support (especially in gold) as he fought his wars in Italy with Francis I of France. The Portuguese demands turned out to be largely moot as Portugal set up a few trading posts but scarcely colonized the islands.
When Portugal's influence waned, particularly upon its royal union with Spain, a new era of imperialism sprang up as the Dutch began exploiting their previously sociable relations to seize much of Portugal's former Pacific Empire. While the Dutch lost out in North America to the British and Portugal held its claims in Brazil, the Pacific islands, including the Philippines, became a fast chain under Dutch rule. Plantations proved profitable, but without a large population, the Dutch primarily held political control with locals carrying on their own lives.

In 1940, after the Second Sino-Japanese War had ended with Japanese dominance in China, the United States led an oil embargo as part of sanctions against Japanese imperialism. Britain and the Dutch followed, and Japan took the embargo as an act of war, swooping in to seize the Dutch East Indies and its rich oil supply. The Philippines were turned into a fortress, intended to be the buffer with the coming war with the United States. When that war finally did come with the US’s declaration in 1943, fighting in the Pacific was brutal as the US and Britain worked to cut Japan off from its fuel. After waves of atomic blasts, one even on Philippines’s largest island, Japan was defeated.

As the world rebuilt itself from WWII, the Philippines became a battleground in the Cold War. After breaking away from the rest of the Dutch East Indies during the Dutch's attempts to maintain colonial power, the independence movement on the northern island chain proved too strong. Western-or-Soviet-backed coups were a constant threat for decades. Today, the nation is hopeful for international investment, although many areas are unstable as separatist movements continue.

In reality, the Treaty of Zaragoza resolved the territory debate in the East Indies and clarified spheres of influence. While the Spanish had technically given up the right to the Philippines, the Portuguese had no issue with later Spanish settlement there since the islands were not suited for their spice trade. It would be won by the United States in 1898 and serve as front lines in the Pacific Theater in World War II.

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