MEXICO CITY – Amid heated debate over the region’s legacy of European conquest and colonialism, statues of Columbus are being toppled across the Americas.
Few have been more controversial than the replacement of a monument in the center of Mexico’s capital, touching on some of the most intense controversies in the country’s current politics, which include not only race and history, but also sex.
After lengthy debate, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced Tuesday that the statue of Columbus that once graced Mexico City’s main street would be replaced with one of a pre-colonial indigenous figure—specifically, a woman.
Announced ahead of Ms Sheinbaum’s expected run for the presidency in 2024, the new statue is widely seen as an effort by Mayer, the first woman elected to head North America’s largest city, chosen to address or exploit cultural tensions. Countries with increasing resistance by women to a male dominated culture.
The new statue “represents the battles of women, especially indigenous peoples, in Mexican history,” he said at a news conference announcing the decision on the anniversary of Columbus’ first arrival in the Americas. “This is the history of classism, of casteism that comes from colonialism.”
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, compared his predecessors in denouncing the history of colonialism, celebrating indigenous culture, and presenting himself as a defender of the poor against the country’s conservative opposition and mostly European-descended elite. I have progressed.
They staged elaborate commemorations this year to mark 500 years since the fall of the Spanish invaders of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, located in today’s Mexico City. He has toured the country in recent months to apologize to indigenous communities for colonial atrocities and to demand similar atonement from the Spanish government.
But Mr. López Obrador has shown little sensitivity to Mexico’s growing feminist movement.
In recent years, Mexican women have taken to the streets to demand government action against one of Latin America’s highest rates of domestic violence. On average, at least 10 women and girls were murdered every day in Mexico last year, according to official government figures, and most crimes go unpunished.
Earlier this year, thousands of women protested in Mexico City and attacked the ramparts outside the presidential residence with bats and blows. Feminist protesters have also attacked colonial statues, viewing them as symbols of Mexico’s male hegemony.
Mr López Obrador has downplayed these protests, even calling them an opposition ploy to destabilize his government. Last month, she claimed that the feminist movement in Mexico was formed only after she took office in 2018.
“They became conservative feminists to impress us, just for this purpose,” she said, applying a term to feminists that she often uses to ridicule her political opponents.
Her derogatory remarks have presented a political challenge to her protégé and potential successor, Ms. Sheinbaum, who has sought to position herself as the leader of the more progressive, youthful wing of the president’s left-wing Morena party.
She has also criticized feminist organizations by condemning the violent attacks on public buildings in 2019.
“Violence is not fought with violence,” she said at the time.
The bronze statue of Columbus, erected atop a pedestal in a traffic island in 1877, has been defaced by demonstrators in the past, and authorities took it down last year amid threats of further damage.
In its place will be a replica of a stone carving titled “Young Lady of the Amazac,” which was discovered in January in the eastern state of Veracruz and dates back to Columbus’ voyages some 550 years ago. The new figure will be about 20 feet tall, three times higher than the original, which is now housed at the National Museum of Archeology in Mexico City.
Valeria Moy, director of the Center for Public Policy Research, a Mexican think tank, said the election of a female statue to replace Columbus could appeal to feminists, while at the same time supporting Mr. López Obrador’s indigenous rhetoric.
“She’s trying to satisfy everyone, especially her president,” Ms Moy said. “From a political point of view, the choice of statue seems like a good decision.”
But on either side of the cultural divide, not everyone was happy.
“They are focusing on the statue, regardless of the rights of the living women,” said Fatima Gambo, an activist with the Mexican advocacy group Indigenous Lawyer Network.
Ms Gamboa, a member of the Maya indigenous people, said a gesture of celebrating Mexico’s indigenous heritage does little to improve the precarious socio-economic conditions and discrimination still faced by many indigenous women.
Felipe Calderón, a conservative former president of Mexico, said that the monument to Columbus was a valuable piece of Mexico’s artistic and historical heritage, and disagreed with its replacement.
“To remove it, mutilate it, is a crime,” he wrote on Twitter last month, when Mexico City’s government first announced plans to replace it with an indigenous symbol. “They’re looting it from Mexico City, its residents and all the Mexicans.”