No Respect For Christopher Columbus In Kirchner's Argentina
The toppling of two Christopher Columbus statues in Buenos Aires suggests the president's sympathies with the continent's indigenous movements. It's another of the government's "confused" reinterpre
June 03, 2015
BUENOS AIRES — The statue of Christopher Columbus, which remains in pieces behind the Argentine presidential palace, was knocked down over a year ago. Today, its stone blocks lay scattered and deteriorating amid continued delays in plans to move it elsewhere to make way for another statue, of Juana Azurduy, a fighter in the 19th century war of independence against Spain. The Columbus monument was a gift to Argentina from its Italian community, which has fought back with requests, initiatives and court orders to prevent the statue from being removed from its historical position. Columbus was after all Genoese, and Italians constitute the largest contingent of migrants to Argentina.
The initiative to remove the statue appears to have emerged from conversations between President Cristina Kirchner, Venezuela's late president Hugo Chávez and Bolivian President Evo Morales. Those two countries have also removed Columbus statues, in both cases with some logic. Morales is a defender of native rights and especially those of the Aymara, in a country where natives and Mestizos, of mixed ancestry, constitute 90% of the population. Chávez was in turn a Zambo — having native and African blood — which is the case of a great proportion of the Venezuelan population.
The timing of the Argentine controversy is notable because four of the leading presidential aspirants are of Italian background. The fathers of Mauricio Macri and Sergio Massa (the liberal and dissident Peronist candidates) were born in Italy, as were the grandparents of presidential candidates Daniel Scioli and Florencio Randazzo.
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The Presidential Palace and Columbus' statue on Plaza de Mayo — Photo: Eurico Zimbres
Four Italian presidential candidates. It's a first for Argentina. So toppling a statue representative of the bonds between Italy and Argentina prompts a question or two about the complexity of Argentine identity.
Less visible but equally significant perhaps is the fate of the Columbus statue from Spain. Beyond the colonial history, the Spanish contingent of migrants was the biggest after the Italians, and together they constitute three-quarters of all migrants who arrived here in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th.
This Argentine monument is at the end of the Costanera Sur, beyond the Boca sports complex, by the sea. It depicts, or depicted, Columbus paying homage to Queen Isabella of Castille, who donated her jewels to finance his expedition. In this case, the Columbus statue has been entirely ripped out and has disappeared, an apparent case of vandalism.
Spanish influence in Argentine politics is legendary. Of the five presidents voted into office after democracy was restored in 1983, three have Spanish surnames (Raúl Alfonsín, Fernando de la Rúa and Cristina Fernández), one was of Syrian origin (Carlos Menem) and the other had a Swiss-German background (Néstor Kirchner).
Scrapping the Italian Columbus statue and vandalizing the Spanish statue demonstrate the blatant confusion of certain historical interpretations the ruling party has sought to impose on Argentina.
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Clarin is the largest newspaper in Argentina. It was founded in August 1945 and is based in Buenos Aires.