Heaven knows what children get taught today in schools about history. For certain it would not be the diet of world history that was the wont in my day.
Almost the first thing we learned at a very tender age was about the Spanish king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, who together created a united Spanish kingdom between two very dominant parts of the Iberian Peninsula. That enabled the kingdom to see off the Moors (Muslims) who had colonised the southern part of Spain for many centuries.
The new alliance gave rise to the great Spanish Empire and later to the famous armada, the bane of the Royal British Navy until the armada’s unforgettable defeat when attempting to invade Queen Elizabeth I’s England.
More importantly for us, Spain had financed the voyages of discovery of Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon), an Italian navigator who on his third voyage in 1498 claimed this island for the Kingdom of Spain, renaming it La Trinidad. The rest is history, so to speak, including the arrival of waves of settlers who begot the motley crew that now constitutes the people of our country.
Two things have happened this week to remind us of our ties to Spain for which I have a particular fondness, having spent a formative time of my young life there. The first is the smearing of the statue of Columbus on Independence Square in red paint to symbolise the blood of the indigenous peoples who populated the region before Columbus’s arrival and upon whom havoc was reeked by the Spanish.
The defacement is allegedly the work of a group that wants the statue removed. I do not know if the group also wants the name of our country and its capital to be changed, or if it would like us to stop speaking English, the lingua franca of another coloniser, who bequeathed us an equally pernicious legacy.
Removing the statue is part of a global trend to remove symbols of negative histories but I am of the view that we are our history. Instead of removing Colon’s statue we should add others of important figures that symbolise, not celebrate, our historical trajectory. Our country is devoid of works of public art except for the ugly statues of calypsonians Sparrow and Kitchener and a better, if charmless, one of Cipriani. All other statues, as far as I can tell, have been removed from public spaces.
Of equal interest to me is the current bid of the Catalonia government to secede from Spain. That powerful and rich province with its own language and culture is different from the rest of Spain but its attempt to use unconstitutional means to declare independence seems to have backfired on Sunday when tens of thousands of Catalans marched in a counter demonstration against destroying any of the statues of the Constitution that brought the people of Spain together in the politically fragile years following the end of the 40 years of Franco dictatorship in 1975.
The Catalan government has also been held in check by the clear message from France and unsurprisingly from the European Union that Catalonia would not be recognised as an independent state and secession would be a form of suicide.
The still new king of Spain, Felipe VI, went before the people and attempted to put down the constitutional coup, telling them to desist, as his own father, Juan Carlos, had to do in 1981 when a military captain locked down the Madrid Parliament in a failed coup d’etat. Their message is that the rule of law and democracy must reign.
It is the same here. We have ways of deciding social and public policy, mindful of our diversity and plurality of views. Defacing public property is both criminal and misguided. Let’s be more constructive.