Miami isn’t just the so-called capital of Latin America. It’s also a top dance floor for Latin American hypocrisies, right-footed or left-footed. And we’ve watched a dazzling performance of that South Florida fandango during the anti-racism protests – by folks who want to dance around the truth about Christopher Columbus and Che Guevara.
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When I lived in Mexico City in the 1990s, every October 12th – commemorating the day Columbus ran into the Bahamas on his way to Asia – protesters tried to pull down his statue on the Paseo de la Reforma.
They did it for the same reason protesters in the U.S. are toppling Confederate statues. The brutal enslavement of people in Latin America – which Columbus not only ushered in but took part in – was a crime on par with the brutal enslavement of people in North America.
Now that the explorer’s statues are being targeted in U.S. cities like Miami, we’re hearing one argument after another here that Columbus’ sins shouldn’t be compared to Robert E. Lee’s. They’re disingenuous at best.
I don’t condone vandalizing statues any more than I condone looting. But if defacing property is offensive, so is whitewashing history. Cubans, Mexicans or Brazilians who try to downplay what their conquering Spanish or Portuguese forebears did in this hemisphere are guilty of the same “Lost Cause” mindset that traps so many U.S. Southerners.
Yes, it took brass to do what Columbus did on his first voyage in 1492. I don’t deny the tectonic historical importance of that accomplishment. Nor am I suggesting people of Spanish and Italian descent (the Italian-born Columbus’ real name was Cristoforo Colombo, btw) shouldn’t derive pride from his feat.
Here in Miami we're being treated to a dazzling fandango of Latin American hypocrisies – by folks who want to dance around the truth about Christopher Columbus and Che Guevara.
What I am suggesting is that his fans should derive a little perspective from the historical record. The heroic navigator was also a horrible violator. A century before the American colonies started receiving slaves from Africa, Columbus upon his very arrival in the Americas was sending indigenous slaves to Spain. As a colonial governor, according to documents like those discovered in Spain in 2005, he ordered vicious crackdowns on indigenous unrest and liked to parade tortured and disfigured subjects through the streets.
So the let’s-can-Columbus outcry has a point. What ruins the point, though, is crying out while waving pictures of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Guevara was Fidel Castro’s Argentine sidekick when their communist revolution took power in Cuba in 1959. A bloodthirsty and homophobic sidekick, by most accounts. But that hasn’t stopped a lot of protesters in Miami from unfurling Guevara’s oh-so-romantic and oh-so-crassly-commercialized likeness during street demonstrations in recent days.