In the last few hours in the United States there have been new attacks against the figure of Christopher Columbus, as part of the protests against the death of George Floyd. In Richmond (Virginia) a statue of Columbus has been knocked down and thrown into the river and in Boston (Massachusetts) a statue of Columbus was found decapitated this morning. Once again the historical manipulation around an essential character in the history of the United States is used to attack his figure under accusations of genocide.
In October 2019 The Hispanic Council published the report “Columbus Day? Sí, gracias”, in which its author, Professor María Saavedra, analysed his figure and his contribution. Today we want to recall some of the main points of the report in order to vindicate the legacy of Christopher Columbus in the United States.
Columbus was NOT a genocide. Columbus did not set foot in the territory that is now the United States during his lifetime. Furthermore, as an envoy of the Spanish Crown, it must not be forgotten that since the Catholic Kings, Spanish law considered the native inhabitants of America as having the same rights and obligations as the inhabitants of peninsular Spain.
Spain was the first country to pass laws to protect the inhabitants of America. Unlike other countries that colonized different parts of the world, it was from Spain that for the first time in history different laws were promoted to protect the natives of America.
The decline of the native population was mainly due to the transmission of diseases. It is clear that there were condemnable episodes of violence, and in fact they were persecuted and punished by Spanish laws, but to claim that violence was the principal factor that diminished the native population is false.
The cultural mixture is the most evident proof of Spain’s policies in America. Unlike other powers whose policies were based on the annihilation of the inhabitants of the conquered territories, the cultural mix between Spaniards and natives is clear evidence of how Spain faced its presence in America, within its lights and shadows. In fact, between 1551 and 1792 Spain built nearly 30 universities and more than 40 cathedrals in its overseas territories.
The attacks against the figure of Christopher Columbus lack historical rigor. Columbus has become the scapegoat for those who try to rewrite the history of America and the United States, which is why many events that took place several centuries later are attributed to him. Spain’s contribution to America in general, and to the United States in particular, goes far beyond the figure of Columbus and is worth vindicating it today because due to its entire cultural, social, linguistic, institutional, and demographic legacy.