Christopher Columbus statue to be replaced in Mexico City

Christopher Columbus' monument in Mexico City as the discoverer of America will be replaced by a statue of an indigenous woman as a criticism of colonialism.

Christopher Columbus statue to be replaced in Mexico City
Christopher Columbus statue in Mexico City. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The statue of the explorer Christopher Columbus in Mexico City, which used to occupy one of the traffic circles of the central Paseo de la Reforma, will be replaced by a statue of an Olmec woman, one of the indigenous cultures that inhabited Mexico before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The Mexican City Hall removed the monument on October 10 last year for cleaning. However, the timing did not go unnoticed: two days before October 12, the date of the discovery of America, a historical episode shrouded in controversy due to the consequences it had for indigenous cultures.

The mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, has assured that the objective is not to erase the historical figure of Columbus but to bring social justice and recognition for the cultures that disappeared with the arrival of the Spaniards.

In Spain, October 12 symbolizes the unity of Hispanic culture and the common bonds between countries from different continents. However, for many the discovery of America symbolizes the oppression of the colonizers, who caused the death of millions of people.

In 2019, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asked by letter to King Felipe VI of Spain and Pope Francis to apologize to the indigenous peoples for the abuses committed during the country's Conquest.

Since last year, several statues of Christopher Columbus and other conquistadors have been attacked in different cities to denounce the consequences of colonialism and racism around the world. The origin of the protests was the death of George Floyd, an African-American who died at the hands of the police in Minneapolis (United States).

500 years since the fall of Tenochtitlan

The removal of the Columbus statue in the Mexican capital coincides with the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlan, the ancient capital of the Aztec empire, at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors.

The explorer Hernán Cortés landed on the shores of Mexico in 1519. He and his soldiers were able to easily prevail over the Indians thanks to the weapons and shields they carried. They also established alliances with some of the peoples subdued by the Aztecs, who wanted to take revenge on them.

From the Yucatan peninsula, Cortes advanced to the center of the country. Tenochtitlan was built in the middle of a lake and that made the attack difficult. The Aztecs suffered a two-month siege until the Spaniards finally managed to capture their king, Cuauhtémoc, on August 13, 1521.

After defeating the Aztecs, the Spaniards destroyed the entire city and used the same stones to build their palaces and the Basilica of Santa Maria de Guadalupe. Today, excavation of the soil in the center of Mexico City has uncovered several Aztec temples and buildings that were buried.

The lost empires of Latin America

The European explorers who arrived in America between the 15th and 18th centuries imposed their language, their religion and their way of seeing the world without respecting the culture and traditions of the peoples of the New World.

Dozens of cultures disappeared with the arrival of the colonizers (a word that has its origin in the name of Columbus). Among all these peoples, the Aztec empire in Mexico, the Inca empire in Peru and the Mayan civilization in Central America stand out.

These three civilizations had built great cities with temples and palaces and had developed great knowledge in mathematics and astronomy. They also had their own language and customs, and a belief system based on nature.

However, the greatness of these empires collapsed before the colonizers, who arrived with horses, chariots, armor and firearms. The conquistadors subdued the indigenous people brutally, with violence. They forced them to convert to Christianity, took their lands and natural resources, and even traded them as slaves.

One of the first voices to question the unjust treatment of the indigenous people was Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican monk who traveled several times to America and lived in different Spanish colonies in the early 16th century. As a result of his experience, he wrote the Brevisíma relación de la destrucción de las Indias, where he denounced the abuses and mistreatment of the Spanish conquistadors to the native population.