Columbus Statue on Shaky Ground in Trinidad

Direct Action May Bring Quicker Result

By A.T. Freeman

Things are moving quickly. Columbus monuments, statues which celebrate colonialists and slavemasters are being brought down either by direct action or governments’ responding to resilient campaigning. Success through direct action has demonstrated that reliance on formal methods often impedes momentum, blocks the initiatives of the people and delays quick action to meet legitimate demands.

To have such offensive monuments boldly displayed in public places is a clear provocation, an insult to history and to the memories of the victims of colonialism and the Atlantic Slave Trade. Especially so in the Caribbean.

In Trinidad and Tobago the reigning monarch of the First People’s Warao Nation, Donna Bermudez-Bovell, last week presented the Port of Spain City Corporation Mayor Joel Martinez with an ultimatum that the Columbus statue in Independence Square be removed. For years the indigenous people’s leader together with individuals, organisations, pressure groups and campaigns such as the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project have organised through formal and informal channels to have Columbus monuments removed. This then may be the final episode of a campaign endorsed by many who have long campaigned for the same objective.

[Photo Credit – Christopher Columbus’ statue at Tamarind Square, Port-of-Spain, after it was recently defaced. KERWIN PIERRE TT Guardian]

Into these stormy waters sailed the Spanish Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Javier Carbajosa Sanchez. In recent correspondence to local media articulating the cry of apologists for colonialism -with crocodile tears lamenting the apparent rewriting of their version of history – the diplomat stated that ‘removing the statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Port of Spain would not right the wrongs of the past’.

No quicker than the interfering envoy spoke did Trinbagonians lambast his spurious and insincere comments with facts. Radio ‘phone -ins, newspaper columns, opinion pieces and social media commentary overwhelmingly refuted the insolent comments of the King of Spain’s representative.

Head of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project Shabaka Kambon suggested that the Ambassador did not “tell Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo to ‘accept it and learn from it’ when she argued that: ‘Democracy is not compatible with a tomb that honours the memory of Franco’?” With thousands of people in the Caribbean and the Americas following the same path as the Spanish people who rejected the cultural promotion of the recent Franco period Kambon said, “so too do we understand that removing Columbus is a necessary step in our own historic journey away from our racist brutal colonial violence towards real independence.”

Capturing the mood of the time Kambon resolved that the campaign: “will not waver in our resolve to end the veneration of the architect of native genocide and the transatlantic slave trade in TT and across the entire Caribbean. We understand as did the people of Spain that our action is a live political decision pregnant with wider meaning for the development of our modern democracy.”

Writing in the website Julie Guyadeen said: ‘As an indigenous descendant, keeping these statues is a great disrespect to what my ancestors went through—as they were stripped of most of their identity, cultures, languages and way of life.’

‘While no one can turn back the hands of time, we can re-write our history in T&T by correcting the lies, the false stories and misinformation that were fed to us by history books written and published by our oppressors, such as Longman and Heinemann Publishers from the UK, which told us that Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas.’

Speaking on behalf of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) at a virtual media conference via Zoom last Sunday party leader David Abdulah proposed that the statue be placed in a museum and for the creation of a commission to investigate. “The images, monuments, and street names of those people ought not to be part of our landscape in TT. I am referring to people who played an integral part in the system of oppression, exploitation, colonialism, brutalism and systemic racism.”

Acknowledging the past accurately is not an initiative aimed at rewriting it. But it is about depicting that past in a way that refutes and denounces – rather than celebrates – genocidal murder and the perpetrators of such crimes. Times have changed, knowledge about that history has always been contested, especially by its victims. ‘This square is situated on the corner of Independence Square and Duncan Street and is one of the many squares in the city. It was opened by Governor Young in 1881. A bronze statue of Christopher Columbus stands in the middle of a fountain which was donated by Mr. Hypolite Borde, a wealthy cocoa proprietor. The square is a tribute to Christopher Columbus who is credited with the discovery of Trinidad in 1498. The erection of the square was intended to enhance the appearance of this part of the town. At that time the Police Band performed short concerts once a month from 5 pm to 6 pm.’

Photo: The First People hold an indigenous heritage procession through Port of Spain in 2016.
(Copyright Maria Nunes)

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