500 years on, Columbus is guilty of genocide

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IT MAY have been the 506th anniversary of his discovery of the Americas, but it was not a good day for Christopher Columbus in the Central American nation of Honduras.

After a three-month "trial", Mayan Indians convicted him, very much in absentia, of genocide during the late 15th-century Spanish Conquest.

A jury of native Indians also ruled that the Italian-born adventurer was guilty of wantonly spreading lethal European diseases among the native population and of robbing them of gold, silver, spices and sacred artefacts.

Almost 500 years after his death, they sentenced him to die again. The open-air "court" outside the Congress building said the explorer could appeal, but since nobody showed up to represent him, they executed him on the spot. Two Indians armed with bows fired eight arrows into the heart of a wooden effigy of Columbus.

Yesterday was Columbus Day, the anniversary of his first landing in the Caribbean, on 12 October 1492. The Bahamas claim he first touched shore there. Others believe it was on the island he named Hispaniola, now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Known in some countries as The Day of Hispanicness, yesterday was a holiday or half-holiday throughout the Americas, including the US.

Most nations used to glorify the explorer on this date, but indigenous Indians, particularly since the 500th anniversary created a wave of publicity six years ago, have turned it increasingly into a day of questioning the brutality of the Conquest.

Bartolome de las Casas, a priest who sailed with Columbus, later wrote: "From 1494 to 1508, over three million people perished from war, slavery and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?"

In Honduras, around 1,000 Indians, some in traditional dress, occupied public parks and blocked highways to prevent tourists from reaching Mayan ruins which the Indians consider sacred. Last year, Honduran Indians wrecked a statue of Columbus.

Government officials accused the Indians of trying to create "another Chiapas", a reference to the south-east Mexican state where a Mayan Indian uprising began in 1994, led by Zapatista guerrillas demanding basic human rights and the redistribution of land.