Vasco Núñez de Balboa

gigatos | January 14, 2022


Vasco Núñez de Balboa (Jerez de los Caballeros, province of Badajoz, ca. 1475 – Acla, present-day Panama, January 15, 1519) was a Spanish adelantado, explorer, ruler and conqueror. After being Andrés Contero, the first European to see the Pacific Ocean from a cliff on its eastern coast, he was the first to take possession of those lands and the first European to have founded a stable city on the New World”s mainland.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa was born around 1475 in the town of Jerez de los Caballeros, near Badajoz, and belonged to the Order of Santiago.

The surname Balboa comes from the castle of Balboa, near Villafranca del Bierzo, in the current province of León (Spain). It is believed that his father was the nobleman Álvaro Núñez (or Martínez) de Balboa, but almost nothing is known about the identity of his mother. He had at least three brothers: Gonzalo, a notary, Juan and Álvaro. Little is known with certainty about his childhood, except that he learned to read and write, unlike other Spanish conquistadors.

During his adolescence he served as page and squire of Pedro Portocarrero, VIII lord of Moguer, with whom he lived in the Castle of Moguer, during the preparations and development of the voyage of discovery. He also lived in Cordoba and had a house in Seville.

In 1500, encouraged by his master and the news of the voyages of Christopher Columbus and other navigators to the New World, he decided to enlist in the expedition of Rodrigo de Bastidas to the Caribbean Sea. Following Bastidas and his pilot Juan de la Cosa, in 1501 he traveled the coasts of the Caribbean Sea from the east of Panama, passing through the Gulf of Urabá, to Cape Vela (present-day Colombia). The ships finally set course for the island of Hispaniola, where one of them was shipwrecked.

Balboa, with the profits obtained in that campaign, bought land on the island and lived there for several years, farming and raising pigs. But he did not have much luck in this activity: the weather was adverse, as it was an area very exposed to hurricanes; the island”s inhabitants were immersed in poverty, and wild pigs represented competition for his products. Balboa began to fall into debt and as he began to be pursued by his creditors, he finally saw no other way out but to flee the island.

In 1508, King Ferdinand the Catholic submitted the conquest of Tierra Firme to a contest. Two new governorships were created in the lands between the capes of La Vela (present-day Colombia) and Gracias a Dios (currently on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua). The Gulf of Urabá was taken as the limit of both governorships: Nueva Andalucía to the east, governed by Alonso de Ojeda, and Veragua to the west, governed by Diego de Nicuesa.

In 1509, wanting to get rid of his creditors in Santo Domingo, Núñez de Balboa embarked as a stowaway inside a barrel in the expedition commanded by the bachelor and mayor of Nueva Andalucía, Martín Fernández de Enciso, taking with him his dog Leoncico, who was the son of a dog Juan Ponce de León. He took with him his dog Leoncico, who was the son of a dog belonging to Juan Ponce de Leon. Fernandez de Enciso was on his way to help Governor Alonso de Ojeda, who was his superior.

Ojeda, along with seventy men, had founded the settlement of San Sebastián de Urabá in Nueva Andalucía. However, near the settlement there were many warlike Indians who used poisonous weapons, and Ojeda had been wounded in the leg. Shortly thereafter, Ojeda retreated on a ship to Hispaniola, leaving the settlement in charge of Francisco Pizarro, who at the time was no more than a soldier waiting for Enciso”s expedition to arrive. Ojeda asked Pizarro to remain with a few men for fifty days in the settlement, or else use all means to return to Hispaniola.

Before the expedition arrived at San Sebastian de Uraba, Fernandez de Enciso discovered Nunez de Balboa aboard the ship and threatened to leave him on the first desert island he found. But many of the crew members spoke in favor of Balboa, whom they knew, and the bachelor was convinced of the usefulness of the stowaway”s knowledge in that region, which he had explored eight years earlier. For this reason, he spared his life and allowed him to stay on board. Upon arriving at his destination, Enciso”s ship ran aground and the credential that accredited the powers granted to Enciso was lost. This would later allow Balboa to challenge Enciso”s authority.

After the fifty days stipulated by Ojeda had passed, Pizarro began to mobilize to return to Hispaniola, when the vessel of Fernandez de Enciso arrived. The bachelor, using his powers as mayor, ordered the return to San Sebastian. This caused surprise among his men because the town was totally destroyed, and also the Indians were waiting for them and began to attack without rest.

Due to the danger of the territory, Núñez de Balboa suggested that the town of San Sebastián be moved to the Darién region, to the west of the Gulf of Urabá, where the land was more fertile and the indigenous people were less bellicose. Fernandez de Enciso accepted this suggestion. Later, the regiment moved to Darien, where the cacique Cemaco was waiting for them, along with 500 combatants ready for battle. The Spaniards, fearful of the large number of combatants, made a vow before the Virgin of Antigua de Sevilla, that if they were victorious in the battle, they would give their name to a town in the region. The battle was very close for both sides, but by a stroke of luck the Spaniards were victorious.

Cemaco, who was lord of the region, abandoned the town along with his fighters to the jungle of the interior. Then the Spaniards decided to loot the houses and gathered a large booty consisting of gold jewelry. In exchange, Núñez de Balboa made a vow promise and founded in December 1510 the first permanent settlement in continental America, Santa María la Antigua del Darién.

The triumph of the Spaniards over the Indians and the subsequent founding of Santa María la Antigua del Darién, now located in a relatively calm place, gave Vasco Núñez de Balboa authority and consideration among his companions. His supporters described Martin Fernandez de Enciso as a despot and miser for the restrictions he took against gold, which was the object of greed of the colonists.

Núñez de Balboa took advantage of the situation by becoming a spokesman for the disgruntled colonists and succeeded in removing Fernández de Enciso from the position of ruler of the city. For this he used as an argument that the new city of Antigua was no longer in the government of Ojeda, which ended in the Gulf of Urabá, but in the government of Diego de Nicuesa. Fernández de Enciso, as Ojeda”s lieutenant, therefore had no jurisdiction in that territory. After the dismissal, an open town council was established and a municipal government was elected (the first in the American continent) and two mayors were appointed: Martín Zamudio and Vasco Núñez de Balboa.

Shortly after, a flotilla headed by Rodrigo Enrique de Colmenares arrived in Santa María de la Antigua, whose objective was to find Nicuesa, who was also in trouble somewhere in the north of Panama. When he learned of the facts he persuaded the settlers of the city that they should submit to Nicuesa”s authority, since they were in his governorship; Enrique de Colmenares invited two representatives that the Cabildo would name to travel with his flotilla and offer Nicuesa control of the city. The two representatives were Diego de Albites and Diego del Corral.

Enrique de Colmenares found Nicuesa badly wounded and with few men near Nombre de Dios, due to a skirmish he had had with indigenous people of that region. After being rescued, the governor heard the story of the battle with the cacique Cémaco and the founding of Santa María and decided to head for the city to impose his authority, since he considered the acts of Enciso and Balboa as an intrusion in his jurisdiction of Veraguas.

The representatives of Santa Maria were persuaded by Lope de Olano, who was imprisoned along with several disgruntled prisoners, that they would be making a grave mistake if they handed over control to Nicuesa, who was described as greedy and cruel, and who was capable of destroying the prosperity of the new city. With these arguments, de Albites and del Corral fled to the Darien before Nicuesa arrived and informed both Núñez de Balboa and the rest of the municipal authorities of the governor”s intentions.

When Nicuesa arrived at the port of the city, a crowd appeared and a riot broke out, which prevented the governor from disembarking in the city. Nicuesa insisted on being received no longer as governor, but as a simple soldier, but still the colonists refused to allow him to disembark in the city. Instead, he was forced to board a ship in poor condition and with few provisions and was left at sea on March 1, 1511. Together with the governor, 17 people embarked. The ship disappeared without a trace of Nicuesa or his companions.

In this way, Núñez de Balboa became the de facto governor of Veraguas. He immediately took steps to obtain official recognition. To this end, he sent two messengers, Mayor Zamudio and Valdivia, to present themselves before the viceroy of the Indies, Diego Colon. From there, Zamudio went to Spain. The efforts were successful because on December 23, 1511, the Crown named Balboa “governor and captain” of “the province of the Darien”.

Núñez de Balboa was from then on in absolute command of Santa María la Antigua and Nombre de Dios. One of his first actions was to judge the bachelor Fernandez de Enciso for the crime of usurpation of authority, who was sentenced to jail and his goods were confiscated, although later Balboa released him in exchange for his return to Hispaniola and then to Spain. On the same ship were two representatives of Núñez de Balboa, with the mission of giving his version of the events of the colony and to ask for more men and supplies to continue with the conquest of Veraguas, which nominally reached Cape Gracias a Dios.

Meanwhile, Núñez de Balboa began to show his conquistador side by embarking to the west and traveling the Isthmus of Panama, subduing several indigenous tribes and forging alliances with others, such as the Coíba, Careta and Poncha chiefs. He crossed rivers, mountains and unhealthy swamps in search of gold and slaves. In a letter sent to the king of Spain he said: “I have gone ahead by guide and even opening the roads by my hand”. He was also able to quell revolts of several Spaniards who challenged his authority.

He succeeded in planting corn and received provisions from Hispaniola and Spain. He made his soldiers accustomed to the life of explorers of colonial lands. Núñez de Balboa managed to collect a lot of gold, partly from the adornments of the indigenous women and the rest obtained by violent means. In 1513, he wrote an extensive letter to the King of Spain in which he requested more men acclimated in Hispaniola, weapons, provisions, carpenters to build ships and the necessary materials to build a shipyard. In 1515, in another letter he spoke of his humanitarian policy towards the Indians and advised at the same time that the cannibalistic or feared tribes be punished with extreme severity.

At the end of 1512 and the beginning of 1513, he arrived in a region dominated by the cacique Careta. He was easily defeated and then became friends with Balboa, receiving Christian baptism and making an alliance with the Castilians that assured the subsistence of the colony, since the cacique promised to supply them with food. In exchange, the Spaniards would give him iron products, a metal unknown in the American continent that quickly became an object of prestige for the Indians.

To seal the alliance, Balboa took “as if she were a legitimate woman” the daughter or niece of Cacique Careta. Núñez de Balboa continued his conquest, reaching the lands of Careta”s neighbor and rival, Cacique Ponca, who fled from his region to the mountains, leaving only the Spaniards and Careta”s indigenous allies who plundered and destroyed the houses of the region. Soon after, he went to the domains of the cacique Comagre, fertile but very wild territory, although when they arrived they were received peacefully to such an extent that they were invited to a feast; in the same way Comagre was baptized.

It was in this region that Núñez de Balboa first heard of the existence of another sea on the other side of the mountains. During a dispute between Spaniards over the little gold they were finding, Panquiaco, eldest son of Comagre, was angered by the greed of the Spaniards and knocked over the scales that measured the gold and replied: “If you are so anxious for gold that you abandon your land to come and disturb another”s, I will show you a province where you can satisfy that desire with your bare hands”.

Panchikachus told of a kingdom to the south where the people were so rich that they used gold crockery and utensils for eating and drinking. He also warned that they would need at least a thousand men to defeat the tribes that inhabited inland and those on the coasts of the other sea. It was the first news of the Inca Empire.

The unexpected news of a new sea rich in gold was taken to heart by Nunez de Balboa. He decided to return to Santa Maria in early 1513 to have more men from Hispaniola, and it was there that he learned that Fernandez de Enciso had persuaded the colonial authorities of his version of what had happened in Santa Maria. Nunez de Balboa then sent Enrique de Colmenares directly to Spain to seek help, since there had been no response from the authorities in Hispaniola.

While in Santa Maria expeditions were organized in search of the new sea. Some traveled the Atrato River up to ten leagues inland, without any success. The request for more men and supplies in Spain was denied because the case of Fernandez de Enciso was already known to the Spanish Court. Thus, Núñez de Balboa had no choice but to use the few resources he had in the city to undertake the discovery. He had the wisdom to rely heavily on the Indians, who knew all the secrets of the jungle: routes to follow, where to get water, how to light a fire.

Using various reports given by friendly Indian chiefs, Núñez de Balboa set out from Santa Maria across the Isthmus of Panama on September 1, 1513, along with 190 Spaniards, some Indian guides and a pack of dogs. Using a small brigantine and ten indigenous canoes, they sailed to the lands of Cacique Careta. And on the 6th, from what was later called Acla, together with a large contingent of a thousand Careta Indians, among them Ponquiaco, to the lands of Ponca, who had reorganized himself; but he was defeated, subdued and made an alliance with Nuñez de Balboa. After several days and joining several of Ponca”s men, they went up into the thick jungle on the 20th. They advanced with some difficulty, encountering black-skinned tribesmen.

They arrived on the 24th to the lands of the cacique Torecha, who dominated the town of Cuarecuá. In this town a fierce and persistent battle was unleashed; Torecha was defeated and killed in combat. Upon entering Torecha”s house, the conquistadors discovered his brother “in a woman”s dress” surrounded by other notables. The Spaniards interpreted the scene as a homosexual harem and executed them all by throwing them to the dogs. After the battle, Torecha”s men decided to ally with Núñez de Balboa, although a large part of the expedition was exhausted and badly wounded by the combat and many of them decided to rest in Cuarecuá.

Núñez de Balboa decided to continue the journey with a detachment of 67 Spaniards, an undetermined number of Indians, including Ponquiaco, and Francisco Pizarro. They entered the mountain ranges in the region of the Chucunaque River. Currently called Urrucallala mountains, between the Sabanas and Cucunatí rivers. According to reports from the Indians, from the top of this mountain range the sea could be seen, so Núñez de Balboa went ahead of the rest of the expedition and before noon managed to reach the top and contemplate, far away on the horizon, the waters of the unknown sea.

It was on one of the peaks of the Urrucallala Mountains. The others hurried to show their joy and happiness for the discovery made by Nuñez de Balboa. The chaplain of the expedition, the clergyman Andrés de Vera intoned the Te Deum Laudamus, while the rest of the men erected stone pyramids and tried with their swords to engrave crosses and initials on the bark of the local trees, attesting that the discovery had been made in that place. All this happened on September 25, 1513.

After the moment of discovery, the expedition descended from the mountain ranges towards the sea and entered the lands of the cacique Chiapes, who was defeated in a brief battle and invited to collaborate with the expedition. Three groups set out from the Chiapes region in search of roads leading to the sea. The group led by Alonso Martín de Don Benito arrived at its shores two days later, embarking in a canoe and testifying that they had sailed the sea for the first time. On their return they notified Núñez de Balboa and he marched with 26 men who arrived at the beach (Núñez de Balboa raised his hands, in one his sword and in the other a banner with an image of the Virgin Mary; he entered the sea up to his knees and took possession of it in the name of the sovereigns of Castile, Juana and Fernando.

Balboa baptized the gulf where they were as San Miguel, because it was discovered on the day of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29, and the new sea as the South Sea, name given then to the Pacific Ocean, by the route that the exploration took to reach that sea. This fact was an important milestone in the long search carried out by the Spanish for a maritime route to Asia by the west. A month later, on October 29, he made the second seizure outside the Gulf of San Miguel and on the open sea coast, somewhere on the present Gonzalo Vázquez beach.

Subsequently, Balboa dedicated himself to the search for the regions rich in gold. He traveled through the lands of the Coquera and Tumaco caciques, whom he easily defeated and snatched their riches in gold and pearls. He later learned that pearls were produced in abundance on some islands ruled by Terarequí, a powerful chieftain who dominated that region. So Núñez de Balboa decided to embark by canoe to those islands, despite the fact that it was October 1513 and the weather conditions were not the best. He barely managed to spot the islands, and named the largest of them Isla Rica (today Isla del Rey), and called the whole region Archipiélago de las Perlas, a name it still has today.

In November, Nuñez de Balboa decided to return to Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien but by a different route, to continue conquering territories and obtain greater wealth with his booty. He crossed the regions of Teoca, Pacra, Bugue Bugue, Bononaima and Chiorizo, defeating some with force and others with diplomacy. When he arrived at the territories of the cacique Tubanamá, Núñez de Balboa had to face him with great violence and managed to defeat him; in December he arrived at the lands of the cacique Pocorosa in the gulf of San Blas, already in the Caribbean and then he went to the lands of Comagre, where the cacique had already died of old age and his son Panquiaco had been named the new cacique.

From there he decided to cross the lands of Ponca and Careta, to finally arrive at Santa Maria on January 19, 1514, with a great booty of cotton articles, more than 100 thousand castellanos of gold, without counting the amount of pearls; besides obviously the discovery of a new sea for the Spaniards. Núñez de Balboa assigned Pedro de Arbolancha to travel to Spain with the news of the discovery and sent the fifth part of the riches obtained to the king, as established by law.

Balboa would make a second crossing in 1517 departing from Acla but by a different route. The so-called Balboa Route would quickly be abandoned when the road from Nombre de Dios to Panama City was opened a few years later.

The accusations of Bachelor Fernandez de Enciso, whom Nunez de Balboa had stripped of power, and the dismissal and subsequent disappearance of Nicuesa caused that, at the request of Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, the king appointed Pedro Arias de Avila, better known as Pedrarias Davila, as governor of the new province of Castilla de Oro, who would therefore replace Balboa in the governorship of the Darien. When Balboa”s emissary, de Arbolancha, arrived at the Court, he calmed things down a bit.

The requests for men that Balboa had made to the Spanish monarch were fulfilled by the new governor, who left with an expedition of 1500 men and 17 ships that cost 40,000 ducats. It was the largest and most complete fleet that had left Spain for the Americas up to that time, and King Ferdinand devoted a great deal of his time to organizing it, expecting it to be a great business.

In this great expedition traveled the lawyer Gaspar de Espinosa with the position of major mayor, the same bachelor Fernández de Enciso now as major constable, the chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo who was going as royal officer; the pilot Juan Vespucio; several captains, among them Juan de Ayora as Pedrarias” lieutenant; several clergymen, among them the Franciscan friar Juan de Quevedo assigned as bishop of Santa María, and finally women, among them Isabel de Bobadilla, wife of Pedrarias.

More than five hundred men died of starvation or victims of the weather shortly after landing in Darien. Fernandez de Oviedo narrated how knights covered in silks and brocades, who had distinguished themselves bravely in the wars of Italy, died of starvation consumed by the nature of the tropical jungle.

Balboa received Pedrarias along with his emissaries in July 1514 and accepted quite resignedly the substitution of the position of governor and mayor. This caused some anger among the colonists and some were already thinking of using arms to confront them, however, Núñez de Balboa showed his respect for the new colonial governors.

When Pedrarias took office, Gaspar de Espinosa imprisoned Nuñez de Balboa and was tried “in absentia”, resulting in the payment of an indemnity to Fernandez de Enciso and other accusers on behalf of Nuñez de Balboa. However, he was declared innocent of Nicuesa”s death and was subsequently released.

On September 23, 1514, Balboa was appointed by the Crown as adelantado of the South Sea and governor of Panama and Coiba, subordinate to the new governor, but at the same time Pedrarias was ordered to grant Balboa the freedom to exercise his governmental affairs. The Crown thus maintained the ambiguity both in the distribution of competencies between the two leaders and in the geographic extension of their jurisdictions, which were not delimited. The appointment came to Balboa on March 20, 1515.

Due to the overpopulated situation in Santa Maria, Pedrarias called several expeditionaries to look for new places to settle. Núñez de Balboa asked Pedrarias to let him make an expedition to Dabaibe, in the Atrato River basin, where it was rumored that there was a temple with great riches. However, this expedition was a failure and Núñez de Balboa was wounded by the constant attacks of the indigenous people of the region.

Pedrarias changed the policy of alliances with the Indians initiated by Balboa for another based on war and plunder, even provoking the death of the cacique Ponquiaco. In 1515 Balboa complained in a letter to King Ferdinand about what he considered to be Pedrarias” erroneous policy and the atrocities perpetrated by his men against the Indians. Balboa also denounced the character of Pedrarias, calling him sickly, indifferent to human losses and lax with the corrupt. But the king distrusted Balboa because of his antecedents and because the promised riches did not arrive in Spain.

Despite this, it did not stop Núñez de Balboa”s ambitions to continue traveling the South Sea again, so he managed to secretly get a contingent of men from Cuba and the ship that brought them settled in the outskirts of Santa Maria, the person in charge of the ship warned Balboa and gave him the amount of 70 Castilians. Pedrarias did not take long to realize the presence of the boat and furious he imprisoned Nuñez de Balboa, took away the men he needed and was ready to lock the conquistador in a wooden cage; however, the archbishop of Quevedo appealed so that he would not commit such punishment. Finally, Pedrarias absolved Nuñez de Balboa.

The rivalry between Núñez de Balboa and Pedrarias suddenly ceased, in part also because of the action taken by Archbishop Quevedo together with Isabel de Bobadilla to marry Balboa to one of Pedrarias” daughters, María de Peñalosa, who was in Spain. The wedding was performed by proxy in April 1516, but the couple never met (María de Peñalosa would later marry Rodrigo Contreras). Once the marriage was arranged, the archbishop left for Spain. Friendly relations with Pedrarias lasted only two years, during which time Núñez de Balboa began to treat him with apparent paternal affection.

In Spain, Cardinal Cisneros, who ruled the kingdoms after the death of the sovereign Ferdinand the Catholic in January 1516, ordered Pedrarias in July 1517 to place himself under the authority of the Hieronymite monks who had been interim governors general of the Viceroyalty of Colombia since the previous year and installed in Hispaniola. This added even more complexity to the political situation of Castilla del Oro.

Núñez de Balboa wanted to continue the exploration of the newly discovered sea and founded a company called the “South Sea Company”, but his father-in-law delayed his departure as much as possible. In the end, as opposition to this project was no longer sustainable within the apparent cordiality that reigned between the two, Pedrarias consented to Núñez de Balboa carrying out the expedition, giving the conquistador license to explore for a year and a half.

Thus, between 1517 and 1518, Núñez de Balboa moved with 300 men to Acla, where the best quality wood for shipbuilding was found. He managed to prepare the materials to make the ships, which were transported by indigenous people.

He managed to move to the Balsas River where he built four ships. He sailed 74 kilometers through the Pacific, traveling through the archipelago of Las Perlas and then the coasts of Darien to Puerto Piñas, a place where there were many of these fruits. During these explorations he heard news of a great and very rich empire located in the lands to the south.

In order to travel to those lands he sent a detachment of about 50 men back to Acla to obtain more nautical materials. Secretly he also ordered a select group of his closest friends to find out if any new governor had arrived from Spain and, if so, to return immediately to inform him.

Upon arriving at Acla, one of Balboa”s trusted men, Luis Botello, tried to sneak into the village at night but was detained. This gave Pedrarias” soldiers the opportunity to arrest the rest of the detachment.

Pedrarias then wrote a letter to Balboa in affectionate terms urging him to present himself to him with great urgency, and Balboa readily agreed. Halfway there he met a group of men under the command of Francisco Pizarro, who arrested him by order of the governor. Balboa was accused of treason for attempted usurpation of power against Pedrarias and of trying to create a separate government in the South Sea.

Nunez de Balboa indignantly denied this accusation and requested that he be sent to Hispaniola or Spain for trial, but Pedrarias, in collusion with Mayor Espinosa, ordered that the trial be executed as soon as possible. The process was opened in mid-January 1519. Núñez de Balboa was sentenced on January 15 by Espinosa to death by decapitation. Four of his closest collaborators were also condemned: Fernando de Argüello, Luis Botello, Hernán Muñoz and Andrés Valderrábano, accused as accomplices. Two other of Balboa”s men were spared execution: Andres de Garavito, who testified against Balboa during the trial, and the priest Rodrigo Perez.

Nunez de Balboa was led to the scaffold with his friends and the voice of the crier who was going to commit the execution said: “This is the justice that the King and his lieutenant Pedro Arias de Avila order to be done against this man as a traitor and usurper of the territories of the Crown”. Núñez de Balboa could not contain his indignation and answered: “Lies, lies; there was never any place for such a crime in me; I have served the King as a loyal man, without thinking only of increasing his dominions”.

Pedrarias observed the execution, hidden behind a platform: an executioner with an axe consummated the punishment. The heads of the decapitated remained exposed for several days in the town, to the curiosity and fear of the inhabitants. The fate of the remains of Núñez de Balboa is unknown, because the texts and chronicles do not mention what happened after his execution.

Francisco Pizarro, after participating in the capture of Nuñez de Balboa, would get the support of Pedrarias for the organization of the expedition that would take him to the conquest of Peru. Mayor Gaspar de Espinosa was the one who would travel the coasts of the South Sea in the ships that Nuñez de Balboa himself had ordered to be built. Later, in 1520, Ferdinand Magellan would rename the sea as the Pacific Ocean, due to its apparently calm waters.

Balboa had no children, so when he died his property was inherited by his siblings. It is not known what happened to his Indian companion. His older brother, Gonzalo, sued to recover Vasco”s estate and memory. Gonzalo and two other brothers of Vasco, Juan and Álvaro, joined the expedition to the South Sea captained by Sebastián Caboto in 1526. However, Gonzalo and Álvaro died in the Río de la Plata at the hands of the natives while Juan, with a broken leg, returned to Spain.

Most of the letters written by Vasco Núñez de Balboa disappeared, perhaps by a deliberate operation of Pedrarias Dávila”s descendants. His activities were collected in the chronicles of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, who coincided with him for a year in the Darién, and of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Both were based mainly on information provided by Bishop Quevedo and gave a version of events that enhanced Balboa against Pedrarias, whom they denigrated as envious, violent and greedy. The memory of Balboa then fell into oblivion until, in the early nineteenth century, was rediscovered by two scholars: the Spanish Manuel José Quintana, author of the first biography of Balboa, and the American Washington Irving.

The figure of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa was systematically extolled in Panama after the separation of Panama from Colombia. Today, several parks and avenues in the capital are named after him and there is a monument overlooking the Pacific Ocean dedicated to his taking possession of the South Sea. The Panamanian currency was named Balboa in his honor and his face appears on the obverse of some coins. His name also designates one of the main ports in the Panama Canal and the administrative district that includes the archipelago of Las Perlas, a place he discovered. The Order of Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the highest decoration granted by the Panamanian government to outstanding and outstanding national and international personalities, was established on January 28, 1933.

In Spain, his name also appears in a street and a subway station of the Madrid subway (Núñez de Balboa station) and streets of many other Spanish cities such as Jaén, Sevilla, Salamanca, Barcelona or Valladolid. In Extremadura, a new town called Balboa was founded in 1952 and several companies are named after him: Siderúrgica Balboa, Cementos Balboa and the projected Balboa refinery, which was never built.

In San Diego (California), Balboa Park, the largest park in the city, was named after him.

The lunar crater Balboa is named in his honor.

In 2013, commemorating the 500th anniversary of his arrival in the Pacific, the Spanish production company Atrevida Producciones, in a Spanish-Panamanian co-production, made a documentary film following the same route that Balboa had used through the Isthmus of Panama in his discovery of the South Sea. .

Trailer for the documentary Descubridores along the Balboa Route

Casa America News


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