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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Indians topple Columbus statue in Caracas

Natives in Caracas celebrated "Indian Resistance Day" by pulling down a bronze statue of christopher columbus.

Chavez Backers Topple Columbus Statue in Caracas
Tue Oct 12, 2004 05:30 PM ET

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 Indians.

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

The new name honored Indians killed by Spanish and other foreign conquerors who followed in the wake of the Italian-born Columbus who sailed 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 bronze statue of Columbus in central Caracas.

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.

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.

"We're celebrating what the president has said," said Herrera. 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 Orlando Iturbe, a 57-year-old member of a pro-Chavez cooperative.

Some passersby said they were shocked by the action. "I don't agree with this. The statue was something historical that we should remember," said Jose Luis Maita, who watched with his wife and small daughters. LINK

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