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Indigenous groups across Latin America mark Columbus Day with protests

INDIGENOUS Purepecha communities in Mexico marked Columbus Day on Monday by blocking roads into their territories, while police clashed with Mapuche demonstrators in Chile.

The day — known as Dia de la Raza, or Day of the [Ibero-American] Race, in Spanish — is deeply controversial as a holiday because it signifies the European conquest of the Americas.

Purepecha leaders in Mexico’s Michoacan state released a statement saying: “We were not ‘discovered:’ our lands were invaded and looted.”

Mexican authorities removed a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus in Mexico City just before the day, apparently for “restoration,” though in recent years it has been targeted and spray-painted with slogans by protesters. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said of the removal: “Yes, it did coincide with today’s date, but that should not be misinterpreted.” 

He acknowledged it as “very controversial” and would not be drawn on when it might be back. While advising people not to “take their anger out on statues” he repeated demands — so far ignored by the Vatican and rejected by Spain — that Madrid and the Holy See apologise for atrocities committed during the European conquest of Mexico.

In Chile, activists from the Mapuche, the country’s largest indigenous group, clashed with police who tried to prevent their unauthorised demonstration to mark the day.

In Bolivia, indigenous demonstrators painted a statue of Columbus red to symbolise the blood of the American peoples and dressed a statue of England’s Elizabeth I in the clothes of a Chola woman. 

The issue is politically electric there because of the army’s removal of the republic’s first elected indigenous president Evo Morales last year and his Movement Towards Socialism’s leading position in polls for elections this weekend.

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