The Excuse of Progress: Celebrating Genocide, Slavery and Cultural Extermination

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In what's been dubbed "the myth that keeps on giving," Monday marks the "honoring" of a geographically inept and morally questionable voyager who stumbled on a so-called New World and proceeded to slaughter, pillage and expropriate all he found in what one witness called "these acts so foreign to human nature." Despite this country's long reluctance to recognize the bloody legacy of Columbus and the tough questions it raises, opposition is growing to a holiday that celebrates an act of   bloody imperialism that "brought death to the Americas," or what Howard Zinn has called "the excuse of progress in the annihilation of race."

The great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano likewise profiled "five centuries of the pillage of a continent" in his Open Veins of Latin America." Arguing Columbus in fact discovered capitalism, he writes, "The Yaqui Indians (were) drowned in blood so that their lands, fertile and rich in minerals, could be sold without any unpleasantness to various U.S. capitalists....The massacres of Indians that began with Columbus never stopped."

Today, many feel it's past time to recognize those crimes - for starters, by eliminating the holiday ostensibly honoring them, or renaming it as Indigenous People's Day. Venezuelans have sought to rename it the Day of Indigenous Resistance; in 2004,  activists succeeded in toppling a Columbus statue in Caracas, after which they held a public trial, unanimously declared Columbus "guilty," painted him red to signify the bloodshed he left in his wake, and dropped the statue from a tree, shattering it. Police, in turn, tear-gassed them, fired rubber bullets and arrested several of the protesters.

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This year, a group of leftist officials in Barcelona have taken a legislative route to the same end, submitting proposals to the city council calling for the removal of the 197-foot bronze statue of Columbus that has marked Barcelona's skyline since 1888 and replacing it with a memorial reflecting “American resistance to imperialism, oppression and indigenous and African-American segregation.” They argue the current statue, with decorations at the base honoring patrons King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, represents “an intolerable act of colonialism and imperialism... We massacred and suppressed a continent and its cultures in the name of God." It's clear they'd get no argument from Native-Americans who, asked in a new video to describe Columbus in one word, offer "evil," "pain," "ignorance," "evil" again, and "America's first terrorist."

 
 

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