Christopher Columbus in his fourth voyage had met a large Mayan ship near the northern coast of Honduras and more precisely near the island of Guanaya, but intent on seeking the passage to India, he had continued towards noon without going back to Yucatán. And also the other navigators who subsequently moved from Hispaniola or Jamaica, searched all the contours of the Caribbean Sea without venturing into the waters north of Cuba. Only in 1513 did Juan Ponce de León discover the Florida peninsula and four years later, in the 1517, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, on behalf of Diego Velázquez, governor of Cuba, reached the coast of the Yucatán at Cape Catoche and followed it up to today’s Campeche (Champotón), thus being the first to touch the Mexican lands. The following year, and precisely on April 20, 1518, a new expedition left Matanzas under the orders of Juan de Grijalva and with the guide of Alaminos, pilot of the previous expedition; on reaching Champotón, it continued heading west and then north, exploring first the coast of Tabasco and the Río Grijalva and then the coast of Veracruz, returning to Cuba at the end of that same year. This was followed by the expedition of Hernán Cortés (v.) Who, having departed with a fleet of 11 ships, on 18 February 1519 from Cape San Antonio, the extreme west of Cuba, first headed for the island of Cozumel, where he freed his father Girolamo de Aguilar, who had fallen prisoner of the Maya in 1511, and who later rendered him important services as an interpreter, and then sailing around the Yucatán he reached the mouth of the Grijalva where with a bloody battle he defeated and subdued the residents of that region. Continuing the navigation, on 21 April 1519 the Cortés landed with all his strength in the place where the city of Veracruz now stands.
It is not the case here to make the history of the conquest; after a series of memorable enterprises and desperate struggles, on 13 August 1521, forced the city of Mexico to capitulate, Cortés took it definitively with all the dominion of the Aztecs, thus constituting with it the viceroyalty of New Spain.
According to Picktrue, the problems that arose from the conquest were naturally different for the conquerors and the conquered. The policy of the conquerors had to tend to acquire the greatest possible autonomy, compatibly with their attachment to Spain; to ensure the dominion of Spain over the conquered countries; to organize the government of these and push their borders further. Thus it came about that their individual political aspirations, those of the local area and those of Spain immediately clashed. In economic life, serious conflicts soon arose between the conquerors and the natives, between those and the political and religious institutions of the monarchy. The same conversion to Christianity put the conquerors not only in conflict with the ancient religions, but even with the institutions through which Christianization had taken place, which rivaled each other and with other public institutions, as well as with the individuals upon whom their action had extended. These antagonisms, more or less covered during the colonial era, were expressed in the aspiration to independence of the country, and with independence many of them had their conclusion, while others continued to exist and explained even after their action.
Even before taking the Aztec city of Tenoxtitlán, Cortés and his companions had founded the first colonies; that of the Villa Rica de la Veracruz in 1519 was, at first, purely a legal fiction, to make Diego Velázquez, the governor of Cuba, independent with whom Cortés had combined his expedition. After the municipal regime of Spain was introduced in Mexico, with the founding of this colony, and after this new colony was placed under the king’s dependence, it ceased to depend on Cuba. And the expedition of Cortés, whose government immediately remained in the hands of the Spaniards who constituted it and who brought the very person of Cortés to power, it was the starting point of the concept of local sovereignty of municipal councils (ayuntamientos) of the new cities that were founded later: the government of which, ideally independent, although subject to the highest authority, was the virtual origin of the democratic aspirations of Spanish Central America, reconciled, throughout the colonial era, with the patriotism that tied the conquistadors to Spain.
Cortés’s first act, after the capture of the lake area, already occupied by the city of Tenoxtitlán, was to found the new city in the same place as the old one: what gave the act a particular spiritual character. And since the ancient city had been conquered with the help of a large number of natives; and the new nation, now at the beginning of its existence, could only develop with the collaboration of the Spaniards with the indigenous, Cortés immediately invited a large number of these to settle in the new city, under the direct government of indigenous authorities designated by the Spaniards and dependent on them. The local political organization which was thus established and which was reproduced in the other Spanish and indigenous cities founded later, ensured the dominance of the Spaniards, for the great prestige they enjoyed as conquerors and for their superior culture; for the support they gave in case of danger; for the reinforcements they received continuously, through the new colonizers from Spain and the Antilles; for the superiority of their weapons and for the sturdy, strategically dominant buildings they built in their cities.