Focusing on the fate of the natives under Spanish rule, the author traces in graphic detail the rupturing of Indian traditions and the fate that befell the Indian people. While demonstrating the excesses of the conquistadores and unscrupulous crown officials, he also emphasizes that Central America was the scene of the first attempts to apply the famous New Laws. Although that legislation was not fully implemented, the reformist judge Alonso López de Cerrato made significant improvements in labor conditions, in the face of furious opposition from the Spanish settlers.
Aside from its discussion of labor practices, this account deals with population figures and the extent of the slave trade, and corrects a number of errors in traditional sources. In addition, Spanish Indian policy, particularly at the local level, is examined in combination with character studies of individual officials, providing a much needed new look at the way in which Indians were affected by the conquest. Based primarily on documents in Spanish and Central American archives, the book includes chapters on the treatment of Indian women and the decline of the native nobility which made valuable contributions to the ethnology as well as the history of Central America.