The city of Los Angeles has its origin and name in a Spanish past. It was founded on September 4, 1781, by an Andalusian governor, Felipe de Neve. By then, Genoese sailor Christopher Columbus carried the round figure of 275 years dead. The Alderman councilor Mitch O'Farrell leads the initiative that the man who came to America believing they were the Indies was a genocide. Last Saturday he was the architect of a life-size statue of the conqueror was removed from a downtown park that had been installed in 1973, then a gift from an association of Italians from Southern California and today a "stain of history." Was this navigator the culprit of the greatest genocide in history ?, as O 'Farrell proclaimed after the event, which was attended by more than a hundred people, among them, descendants of Indians who gave shouts of joy and played their drums.
Most historians consulted categorically deny that Cristoforo Colombo can be labeled as genocidal. "It is a figure that until now had not been answered thanks to its achievements in navigation, to colonize a new space and because it supposed a globalization", says Carlos Martínez Shaw, Professor Emeritus of Modern History of the National University of Distance Education (UNED) and member of the Royal Academy of History. "However, there is also a dark side, because the main motivations of that process had more to do with the desire to find gold and spices. The conquerors found populations that, at times, destroyed their lives and culture and there were confrontations with those who had the right to defend themselves against some intruders ". However, one can not speak of genocide, because "there was no desire to exterminate a race, among other reasons because they were needed as labor", an issue that also points Pablo Emilio Pérez-Mallaína, Professor of History of America at the University of Seville and specialist in American colonization.
Precisely, from the American side, Steve Hackel, professor of History at the University of California, supports indigenous claims, but the withdrawal of the statue generates "important doubts, because it has been done almost in secret and without debate." For Hackel, Colón was "a very controversial person. He did not propose or practice the genocide of natives, but he can be condemned for enslaving hundreds of Indians. In any case, we can not blame him for the practices of those who followed in his footsteps. " For the Colombian Mario Jursich, editor and writer, "is well documented that Columbus did not lead any genocide. Those who committed abuses and atrocities against the Native Americans were those who came after him, the colonizers. "
Borja de Riquer, professor of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, considers that to qualify to Columbus of genocidary "is excessive". The admiral "was a traveler, more than a manager", and the company of America was "a conquest with all its characteristics, in which the conquerors appropriate everything, territories and people. These stories are always violent. " De Riquer adds a terminological question. "We should not talk as much about discovery as about the conquest and submission of a population by a foreign power." More forceful against the angelic authorities shows the professor Santiago Muñoz Machado, member of the Royal Spanish Academy, awarded last week with the National History We speak the same language, a book about the expansion of Spanish from the conquest until the independence of the colonies. "There is nothing to repent of, nor reason to condemn. It is a cultural aggression to remove the monuments that remind Columbus. "
On the opposite side is the British historian Roger Crowley, author of The endless sea, Portugal and the forge of the first global empire. COn the assumption that when Columbus set foot on American soil on October 12, 1492, he "opened an era of mass murder by the European conquerors," so that "he is the founding father of the genocide in the New World," although he denies that there was any intention of extermination. In this line the historian of the Autonomous University of Barcelona moves Antonio Espino López, author of the book The conquest of America: A critical review. "We can not talk about planned genocide, but we can talk about the start of large hecatombs in the Americas." While José Luis de Rojas, professor of Anthropology of America in the Complutense of Madrid, specialist in the conquest of Mexico, provides a reason linked to the life of the admiral. "He was there very little time, he spent half his life on board". In addition, "the death figures are very exaggerated. They killed more epidemics like smallpox, than the Spaniards. "
Judge history today
Seen the character, it is necessary to ask yourself if you can review the past with the eyes of today. Carmen Sanz Ayán, of the Academy of History, professor of Modern History of the Complutense, assures that this historical revisionism about Columbus was "expected". "It is a current that has been coming for some time from some departments of American universities, although it is curious that it comes from descendants of communities that were almost exterminated by other civilizations." According to Sanz, in those university areas "is being given weight to those who want to impose univocal interpretations from presentism and clear decontextualization. This is something that goes against our science and historians can not afford it. " In his opinion, this movement can lead to "a greater danger, the construction of the national from the ethnocultural, and in Europe we already know what this meant".
For Espino López, on the other hand, "we must review all the imperialisms thoroughly, it is not just a question of the Spanish monarchy of the sixteenth century. All have been equally negative and have tried to justify that the populations were benefited. That type of argument no longer holds ". Conversely, Pérez-Mallaína He argues that one can not "qualify what happened in the fifteenth century with the moral and the laws of the 21st century. All peoples have been dominant and dominated. The Aztecs enslaved their enemies, sacrificed them and ate their hearts. " Borja de Riquer agrees that if you judge today's moral criteria to historical figures of the past, "very few would be saved".
Martinez Shaw warns that history "allows different interpretations even of a verified and verified fact". To Columbus it is necessary to "value it from the universal history, more than from the subjection that there was. I prefer not to touch those issues because of their great meaning, although I understand that there are those who want to do it ". Professor De Rojas points out that "there is recognition of what happened so that it does not happen again, as is happening in Central Africa. All we can do is assume our past, even if we are not responsible. "
In the recurrent debate between those who were the bad guys and the worst ones, "the conquest of America was not very different from what the British, the Dutch or the Romans did", says From Riquer. "The colonizer is never good, but if we compare the footprint of the Spaniards in Spanish America with what the English did in the United States or the Portuguese, in Brazil …", points out Consuelo Varela, doctor in History of America and researcher of the School of Hispano-American Studies of the CSIC, that in addition puts this example: "Spain founded the university in Peru in the XVI century [Lima, 1551]; while the English founded Harvard in 1636 and in Brazil there was not until the beginning of the twentieth, when it was already independent ". Pérez-Mallaína He argues that "Spanish colonization was not the worst, because it was very close to the Catholic religion and the conquistadors had a certain position of conscience; something that did not happen among the English. "
The British Roger Crowley he brings the ember to his country, recognizing that all colonization implies "violence, looting and oppression", but that "the dominance of the Belgians in the Congo was worse than that of the British Empire in India". By way of conclusion, the professor De Rojas He points out the real reason for which Colón ended last Saturday lying on a truck: "They have taken it away for what it represents, rather than for what it really did." While Jursich laments that "nothing is gained by hiding the problematic facts of the past by eliminating them from public view".
With information from Jacinto Anton, Francesco Manetto, Margot Molina, Pablo Ximénez de Sandoval, Pablo Ferri and Peio H. Riaño.
It was politicians of Italian descent who, in the late nineteenth century, "implanted Columbus Day" in numerous cities in the United States, says Consuelo Varela, a historian who has written more than thirty books related to the discovery and the admiral, as Christopher Columbus. Texts and complete documents (Alliance, 1982). The indigenous movements have been protesting for years against this event that, since 1937, is celebrated on the second Monday of October. In Los Angeles, these groups, led by Alderman Mitch O'Farrell, a descendant of an Oklahoma tribe, forced last year to change this holiday for Indigenous, Aboriginal and Native People's Day. His latest achievement has been the removal of the statue of Columbus from a park in downtown Los Angeles.