Colombia charges against the monuments to the Spanish conquerors | International

Colombian indigenous people made a symbolic funeral for the statue of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, demolished in Bogotá.  Courtesy CAMILO ARA / IDPC
Colombian indigenous people made a symbolic funeral for the statue of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, demolished in Bogotá. Courtesy CAMILO ARA / IDPC

The monument to the Heroes without Simón Bolívar mounted on his horse; El Dorado avenue in Bogotá without Christopher Columbus from the beginning of the last century, nor Isabel La Católica at his side; Avenida Jiménez, in the center of the capital, renamed Avenida Misak. The protests in Colombia left an unexpected effect: a series of bare pedestals and an urban landscape that tries to resignify itself.

After repeated attempts by protesters and indigenous communities to demolish – and in some cases achieve – statues of Spanish conquerors, among other figures, the Government of Iván Duque withdrew some of them and announced that they will review some monuments installed in the country since 1920. “Our priority is to protect the heritage. Faced with possible damages, we decided to transfer them temporarily to the La Sabana (train) station, ”said Culture Minister Angélica Mayolo. Having just arrived in office, Mayolo takes a turn at the government’s position in relation to monuments. The two previous ministers had described the demolition of the statues as vandalism. “The country must respect the different visions and that the communities that today feel discriminated against with the symbols of the national heritage can be heard, but without tolerating violence and destruction,” said the minister when announcing the decision of the National Heritage Council of check the monuments. However, it is not yet clear who will participate in the dialogue or which statues will be reviewed.

During the first days of the protests in Colombia – which began on April 28 – indigenous communities demolished for the second time the statue of the Spanish conqueror Sebastián de Belalcázar in Cali. “We knocked down Sebastián de Belalcázar in memory of our chief Petecuy, who fought against the Spanish crown, so that today his grandsons and granddaughters continue to fight to change this criminal government system that does not respect the rights of mother earth,” said the movement of Indigenous Authorities of the South West.

Then it fell to the also conqueror Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, founder of Bogotá. The image of his face against the ground and the Guambian flags of the indigenous peoples of Cauca, placed on the pedestal, announced what was to come for the monuments. In the afternoon, an image of Dilan Cruz, a young protester killed by the police in 2019, was installed on the pedestal, but at night a group of people took it down. Avenida Jiménez, one of the main avenues in the city center, is now known — at least informally — as Avenida Misak, in homage to the indigenous people who knocked down the statue. Faced with the demolition and, anticipating what would happen to other sculptures of this type, the District Institute of Cultural Heritage of Bogotá held nine dialogue tables on the monuments and their representation in which about 170 people participated. One of its conclusions is that there is consensus “even among those who have a traditional perspective that it is necessary to expand the account of heritage”, and that “there are no closed debates or that they are only by experts”. “What we saw in the protest is that there is an interpellation of the public space,” says Patrick Morales, director of the District Institute of Cultural Heritage of Bogotá (Idpc).

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The indigenous people of the Misak community are the ones who have led the falls of statues as a form of protest. On June 10, they gathered around Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabel La Católica. They tried to shoot them down, but quickly a riot squad surrounded the monuments and engaged the protesters. Ten people were injured. Although they did not achieve the objective, the indigenous people stayed around the monument dancing and singing. The following morning, the government made a surprising decision: it removed the statues. The image of both climbs on a crane heading to the center of Bogotá and then that of two misak raised on the pedestal waving their flags, was read by some people as the victory of the indigenous people, although the government indicated that it was a way to protect them.

Professor Amada Carolina Pérez, associated with the faculty of social sciences of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, explains that it is not only about questioning characters in history “but about colonialism as a matrix of thought and aesthetics” and agrees with the director of the Institute of Heritage in that “it is a telluric movement that shakes the public space” that cannot be thought to be detached from the graffiti, murals and monuments to the resistance that have appeared in these almost two months of demonstrations. “This strike has removed very significant things, questions the way memory has been constructed in public space and shows how it can acquire a new meaning.”

What to do with the demolished monuments? Where to locate them? What purpose to give them? There is still no decision and these will be the questions that the open dialogue with the communities will have to answer. In Bogotá, where the dialogue is progressing, some proposals are already being discussed. One of them is to transfer them to museums, as other countries that go through the same discussion have done. “Take them to museums as settings for difficult debates from difficult pasts. It may be an option that, for example, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada ends up as a document in one of them. Now, more questions arise, how do we present it? Do we restore it completely or do we show the marks of its fall? ”says Morales. The other options that they contemplate are a chair of history that goes through the regions where it passed and generate debates; and an alternative proposed by the indigenous communities of the capital: to perform mortuary rituals for them. This is what they have just done with the Spanish conqueror. On June 20, on the winter solstice, the Muisca community made a funeral walk for Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. His proposal, Morales says, was “to let him go and forgive him, to be able to continue and close his scars.” They have explained it like this: “To do a mortuary is to“ cleanse the dead ”, that is to say to pay off the material and spiritual debt that they left, to heal the history or memory of everything and everyone it affected. We walk to pay off the debt and ensure the non-repetition of this story ”.

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