[News] Venezuela: Columbus statue toppled

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Fri Oct 15 11:00:40 EDT 2004

Reuters - Oct 12, 2004


By Pascal Fletcher

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo 
Chavez celebrated Columbus Day on Tuesday by toppling a statue in Caracas 
of the explorer whom Chavez blames for ushering in a "genocide" of native 

Police firing tear gas later recovered parts of the broken bronze imawhich 
was dragged by the protesters to a theater where the Venezuelan
leader was due to speak.

Two years ago, Chavez rechristened the Oct. 12 holiday -- commemorated 
=widely in the Americas to mark Christopher Columbus' 1492 landing in 
theNew World -- "Indian Resistance Day."

The new name honored Indians killed by Spanish and other foreigconquerors 
following in the wake of the Italian-born Columbus who
in the service of the Spanish crown.

As the left-wing nationalist president led celebrations on Tuesday to honor 
Indian chiefs who resisted the Spanish conquest, a group of his
supporters conducted a mock trial of a statue of Columbus in centralCaracas.

They declared the image guilty of "imperialist genocide," looped ropes 
around its outstretched arm and neck and heaved it down from its marble 
base. No police or other authorities intervened as the protesters drove off 
in a truck yelling, "We've killed Columbus!"

"This isn't a historical heritage. ... Columbus is the symbol of a conquest 
that was a globalization by blood and fire, a cultural
massacre," said Vitelio Herrera, a philosophy student at Venezuela's 
Central University.

Outside the Teresa Carreno theater, the protesters hung the statue from 
atree and then let it fall to the ground. Police arrested several of

Chavez has called Latin America's Spanish and Portuguese conquerors "worse 
than Hitler" and the precursors of modern-day "imperialism" he says is now 
embodied by the United States, the biggest buyer of his country's oil.

The base of the toppled statue was daubed with slogans such as "Columbus = 
Bush. Out!"

The protesters, many who wore red T-shirts with slogans supporting Chavez, 
repeated the Venezuelan leader's fierce criticism of the U.S.-led
occupation of Iraq.

"Didn't they tear down the statue of Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq?

For me, (U.S. President George W.) Bush represents barbarity and Chavez 
represents civilization," said 57-year-old Orlando Iturbe.

Some passersby were shocked. "I don't agree with this," said Jose Luis 
Maita, who watched with his wife and small daughters. (Additional
reporting by Fabian Andres Cambero)


AP via Dow Jones Newswires - Oct 12, 2004


CARACAS (AP)--While representatives of Venezuela 's indigenous groups urged 
a mayor to bulldoze a statue of Christopher Columbus in one
Caracas plaza on Tuesday, radical government supporters leveled another 
statue of the Italian explorer to protest the alleged "genocide" of South 
America's natives under colonial rule.

Freddy Bernal, an ally of President Hugo Chavez and mayor of 
Caracas'Libertador district, said five people were arrested after dozens used
ropes to pull down the roughly century-old bronze statue of Columbus in 
Caracas' Plaza Venezuela and then spray-painted graffiti reading:
"Columbus Equals Genocide" and "The Resistan' statue's foundation.

"We call on small groups that don't follow the (official) government line 
not to take part in such acts," Bernal told the state-run television

Earlier Tuesday, representatives of Venezuela 's indigenous tribes 
petitioned Bernal to take down a statue of Columbus in Caracas' El
Calvario park and replace it with the bust of the legendary Venezuelan 
Indian chief Guaicaipuro, who fought against colonists.

Chavez has glorified chiefs -or "caciques" in Spanish -such as Guaicaipuro, 
who is remembered for his attacks on the Spanish founders
Of Caracas, and Peru's Tupac Amaru, an Inca leader who led the continent's 
largest Indian uprising.

There are approximately 350,000 indigenous peoples from 28 distinct ethnic 
groups in this South American country of 25 million.

Columbus first stepped on Venezuelan soil on Oct. 12, 1498 in what is 
nowthe town of Macuro, located 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of the
capital, Caracas., the capital.

Venezuelans refer to "Columbus Day" as "The Day of Race," a reference to 
the day different races first met here and began to mix. The day was 
designated as such by dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in 1921.

Chavez, a self-proclaimed "revolutionary" who is wildly popular among most 
indigenous groups, signed a decree in 2002 changing the name of Venezuela's 
Oct. 12 "Columbus Day" to "The Day of Indigenous Resistance." Joined by 
indigenous leaders from across the country, Chavez attended ceremonies to 
commemorate the national holiday on Tuesday.

Through a new constitution pushed through by his political allies in 1999, 
Chavez paved the way for bilingual education, the demarcation of 
"indigenous habitats" and gave indigenous groups representation in the 

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