Mexico takes down Columbus statue ahead of protest

By: AFP      Published: 12:13 PM, 11 Oct, 2020
Mexico takes down Columbus statue ahead of protest

Mexican authorities on Saturday removed a statue of Christopher Columbus that stood in the capital, two days before protesters planned to knock it down during events commemorating the Italian navigator's arrival in the Americas.

The culture ministry said the statue was removed from Reforma Avenue in Mexico City on the request of city officials, adding it was taken down for restoration.

Activist groups had organized a protest called "We're going to knock it down" for Monday, October 12, the date marking Columbus' arrival in America in 1492. 

In Mexico, the date is commemorated as Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race), in recognition of the country's mixed indigenous and European heritage.

Activists in various cities in the United States have torn down and vandalized  statues honoring Columbus in recent months, claiming they symbolize the genocide and exploitation of Native American people.

Mexico City's statue, which had been damaged in 1992, was the first monument installed on Reforma Avenue in 1877.

Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said it could be returned after the restoration work was complete.

"Maybe it would be worth... a collective reflection on what (Columbus) represents, especially towards next year," Sheinbaum said at a press conference. 

The controversy came the same day as the release of a letter in which Mexico's president asked Pope Francis for an apology for the Catholic Church's role in the oppression of indigenous people in the Spanish conquest 500 years ago.

In the letter, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the Spanish crown, Spain's government and the Vatican should apologize to native people for the "most reprehensible atrocities" committed after Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico in 1521.

"They deserve not just that generous attitude on our part but also a sincere commitment that never again will disrespectful acts be committed against their beliefs and cultures," the president said in the letter, published on social media.

The Catholic church played a key role as Spain colonized the Americas and spread its empire, setting up missions to convert indigenous people to Christianity.

Lopez Obrador made a similar request last year in a letter to Spain's King Felipe and the pope, but the Spanish government rejected the petition outright.

The president renewed the call as part of preparations to commemorate in 2021 the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.

The pope did apologize in 2015 to Bolivia over the church's role in oppression in Latin America during the Spanish colonial era.