Guatemala, Mexico Come to Grips with Colonial Past, Repression


GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 12 (Reuters) – Protesters in Guatemala tried to topple a Christopher Columbus statue on Tuesday amid protests against the treatment of indigenous people by European conquerors, the latest effort in a global movement to re-examine symbols of the colonial era.

The demonstrations coincided with Hispanic Heritage Day, commemorated worldwide to mark Columbus’ arrival to the Americas, but which has faced criticism for not recognizing the disastrous effects on indigenous people, many of whom were enslaved or died of diseases brought by the foreigners.

In Guatemala’s capital on Tuesday, a group of people strained to dismantle a towering Columbus statue by pulling a long rope tied to its neck but could not tear it down, social media videos showed.

The monument, which stretches 30 feet (9 meters) up and weighs 10 tons, was shipped to Guatemala from Spain in 1896.

Another group of protesters succeeded in tearing away the head on a monument to former President Jose Maria Reina Barrios, who served from 1892 to 1898, after splashing it with red paint.

Daniel Pascual, a leading advocate for farmer rights, said he was on the streets for Indigenous Resistance Day, not to pay tribute to Columbus and the repressive leaders who followed.

“They were invaders and a continuation of the invasion,” he said.

Guatemala City said in a statement it opposed the “acts of vandalism” taken against monuments it described as “historical heritage.”

Columbus led several Spanish-funded expeditions from the 1490s onward, opening the way for the European conquest of the Americas. A number of statues honoring the Italian navigator have been removed from U.S. cities since the Black Lives Matter protests, as well as in other countries.

In Mexico’s capital, officials on Tuesday said a replica of a pre-Hispanic sculpture depicting an indigenous woman, dubbed “the young woman of Amajac,” will replace a bronze, 19th-century Columbus statue on the city’s main thoroughfare removed last year.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Sandra Maler


Mexico City to swap Columbus statue for one of indigenous woman

Artist's rendition of Young Woman of Amajac statue
The Columbus statue will be replaced by a replica of the so-called Young Woman of Amajac

BBC- Mexico City’s governor has confirmed that a statue of an indigenous woman will replace the capital’s Christopher Columbus monument.

The statue was removed last year after indigenous rights activists threatened to tear it down.

Claudia Sheinbaum said it will be replaced by a replica of a pre-Columbian statue known as the Young Woman of Amajac.

Protesters have toppled Columbus statues in Latin America and the US.

Columbus, an Italian-born explorer who was financed by the Spanish crown to set sail on voyages of exploration in the late 15th Century, is seen by many as a symbol of oppression and colonialism as his arrival in America opened the door to the Spanish conquest.

Ms Sheinbaum’s latest announcement was made on 12 October – the anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.

In the US it is widely celebrated as Columbus Day. But in Mexico and other Latin American countries it is known as Día de la Raza (Spanish: Day of the Race). Many view it as a commemoration to native resistance against European conquest.

Municipal workers clean a statue of Christopher Columbus, which was protected by a metal fence after activists called to tear it down on social networks, in Mexico City, on October 12, 2020.Image source, AFP
Image caption, The previous statue of Columbus was daubed with paint during protests last year

Ms Sheinbaum said she wanted to make the change as part of the “decolonisation” of the famous Reforma Avenue, where an empty plinth currently stands.

She added that the new monument – set to to be three times as tall as the Columbus statue – was in recognition that “indigenous women had been the most persecuted” during and after the colonial period.

The original Young Woman of Amajac was discovered in January in Veracruz.

It is believed that the sculpture depicts a leading female member of the Huastec people at the time of its creation.

The original currently sits in Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum, which is going to create the replica.

After the city government decided to remove the Columbus statute from its plinth, a number of proposals were put forward including a statue inspired by a pre-Hispanic Olmec head.

However, it was derided as a token gesture for its lack of authenticity, prompting Ms Sheinbaum to cancel it and opt instead for the Young Woman of Amajac.

The statue of Christopher Columbus will be moved to a park in another area of Mexico City.

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