Letter: Columbus: a symbol of continuing brutality

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Sir: Westminster Council recently erected Britain's only statue of Christopher Columbus, in Belgrave Square, near the Spanish Embassy and Canning House (centre for Latin American studies). Tuesday (12 October) is Columbus Day and, as everyone will remember, last year was the 500th anniversary of Columbus's landing in the Americas, an event which the Indians characterised with the slogan '500 years of genocide, invasion and resistance'.

Within a century of the arrival of the first Europeans, 40 million Indians had died in South America alone. The descendants of the survivors are now among the most oppressed peoples in the world. Of course, Columbus was not responsible for all of this. But he has become a symbol, particularly to native Americans, of the brutality that characterised, and still characterises, the relationship between Europeans and the Indians.

Canning House, which supports the installation of the statue, claims it 'expresses Europe's friendship, appreciation and gratitude to the peoples of the Americas . . . for their contribution and friendship to Europe'.

What baloney] The invasion of the original Americas is still going on, and much of it is still fuelled by Europe. The World Bank pursues its destructive projects in Amazonia; the EC finances the Carajas project in Brazil, where some of the last nomads of the Americas are still fleeing contact with whites (about half of these Awa-Guaja Indians have been killed in recent years); British oil companies have ravaged Indian lands in Peru and Ecuador, and so on.

The statue should be removed. If Canning House wanted a symbol of American history, it might have chosen an effigy of, say, Quintin Lame (1883-1967), Colombian Indian leader, philosopher and writer, whose ideas seeded a resurgence of Indian pride. Or what about Alvaro Ulcue, Paez Indian and Roman Catholic priest, gunned down on his way to perform a baptism nine years ago for standing up to the reign of terror white landowners still perpetuate in the Andes?

Statues are very potent icons. We should represent heroes humanity can be proud of, not traders who have become symbols of cruelty and destruction.

Yours faithfully,



Survival International

London, W2

7 October