NEWS AMERICAS, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO, Mon. July 13, 2020: Indigenous people took to the streets of the US Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico over the weekend to demand statues of colonialists be removed.
Member of the Council in Défense of the Indigenous Rights of Boriken, some dressed in Taino traditional clothing, marched through Old San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 11, 2020 demanding the removal of symbols honouring colonial oppression, including statues of Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de Leon.
“These statues represent all that history of violence, of invasion, of looting, of theft, of murder,” said an activist who goes by the name of Pluma and is a member of Puerto Rico’s Council for the Defense of Indigenous Rights. “These are crimes against humanity.”
Many banged on drums and blew on conch shells to demand that the U.S. territory’s government start by removing the statues of Spanish colonizers.
Columbus landed in Puerto Rico in 1493 accompanied by Spaniard Ponce de León, who later became the island’s first governor and quelled an uprising by the native Tainos, a subgroup of the Arawak Indians. Historians and anthropologists believe that up to 60,000 Tainos lived in Puerto Rico at the time, but they were soon forced into labor and succumbed to infectious disease outbreaks.
Centuries later, local government officials honored both explorers by erecting statues and naming streets and plazas after them across Puerto Rico. The Columbus Plaza is located at the entrance of Old San Juan and bears a statue of Columbus unveiled in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his arrival. Meanwhile, a nearby statue of Ponce de León stands facing south with his left hand on his hip and right finger pointed toward the first settlement he founded.
The march came as Puerto Ricans’ interest in the territory’s indigenous past continues to grow and as statues of Columbus have been removed or toppled elsewhere in the U.S. mainland following an uproar over racism after the police killing of George Floyd. Protesters in Baltimore threw a Columbus statue into a harbor, while they beheaded another one in Boston.