In the midst of the protests that Colombia is going through, in Barranquilla a group of demonstrators knocked down the statue of Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, under claims of “genocide.”
Then, with the help of ropes, the demonstrators dragged the statue’s head down one of Barranquilla’s main avenues.
Like the increasing violence of the marches, the habit of knocking down statues in the middle of demonstrations has gained strength. During the first day of the national strike, Cali saw a group of Mizak Indians tear down the statue of Sebastian de Belalcazar, the founder of the city.
Days later, the statue of Antonio Nariño, independence hero and translator into Spanish of the French Revolution’s proclamation, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, was torn down.
Although figures such as Columbus and Belalcazar can be blamed as conquistadors and some will even label them as genocidal, Nariño cannot be blamed for either title.
In past marches, protesters have also tried unsuccessfully to topple other figures, such as the statue of Queen Isabella the Catholic and another of Christopher Columbus in Bogota.
‘Woke’ culture in Colombia: Columbus and historical ignorance
In a recent column in Reason Magazine, Daniel Raisbeck denounced the rise of woke culture in Colombia and how the narrative of oppressed and oppressors has permeated the imaginary of a sector of the country’s youth.
Violence against statues of historical figures has the same rationality as the destruction of police posts or the burning of banks. It responds to the preservation of the narrative of the oppressed rebelling against an oppressive system that has been perpetuated since the beginning of Colombia’s history.
Colombian woke culture feeds on the narrative of declaring oneself perpetually oppressed by everything: by the state, the political class, culture, institutions and even one’s own ancestors.
Although Colombia is far from being a first world country, its struggle to become a democracy, however imperfect, is undeniable, and with all the failures it has had as a state, the country has been the longest-lasting democracy in South America.
The narrative of victimhood is myopic in understanding history as a problem of good guys and bad guys and not as complex processes that are more conditioned by the times than by the morals of 500 years after the fact.
Columbus was no more good or bad than any Christian of his time, he was a Genoese navigator whose culture was rooted in all kinds of trade, including the slave trade. As horrible as the practices of the 15th century may seem to us, at that time there was no human being who was a humanist and who would consider freedom, equality or democracy as rights for all people.
In the 15th century, society, in almost every corner of the earth, was highly stratified and with rigid caste systems. This was a reality in Spain as well as in pre-Columbian America, the Ottoman Empire, Timurid Persia, China, India and Tokugawa Japan.
While these social systems may seem terrible to the eyes of a 21st-century world citizen, this situation was the norm for a person in the 15th century, regardless of where they came from. The myth of the genocidal Spaniard and the good Native American is simply not true. Thousands of indigenous people were part of the conquering armies and many others opposed the independence cause when the time came to get out from under the Spanish “yoke”.
As bloody as the conquest may have been, several studies have shown that the main cause of indigenous deaths was pandemics coming from the Old World. This fundamental fact to explain the high mortality of the Spanish conquest is completely ignored by leftist Colombian intellectuals and their followers, simply because it does not fit the narrative of oppression they want to perpetuate.
Equating a figure like Christopher Columbus with Adolf Hitler — as is commonly done to justify knocking down their statues, rather than ailment and empathy — shows great ignorance of two very different moments in history, about figures who lived in very different times, the first in the Middle Ages, the second in the twentieth century, after the proclamation of the rights of man.