THE EDITOR: Copy of letter sent to the mayor of Port of Spain.
It’s difficult to think of a more perverse hero than Christopher Columbus, the Italian who led Europe’s first landing party in the Americas.
From rape to pillage, to flat-out murder, Columbus and his men were the first Europeans to commit horrendous atrocities against America’s indigenous peoples. All in the name of the Spanish monarchy.
In his journal, Columbus didn’t mince words about his intentions after meeting the Arawak natives in the Bahamas in 1492. He described the encounter this way:
“They...brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things...They willingly traded everything they owned...They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features...They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane...They would make fine servants...With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Columbus would add: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”
Columbus returned home to Spain and came back to the Caribbean with 17 ships and 1,200 men. His men travelled from island to island, taking Indians as captives. In 1495, in a large slave raid, Columbus and his men rounded up 1,500 Arawak men, women, and children, and put them in pens. They selected what they considered the best natives and loaded them onto ships back to Spain. Two hundred died en route. After the survivors were sold as slaves in Spain, Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.
But slaves weren’t enough for Columbus or the Spanish monarchy. Columbus needed to bring back gold. Columbus and his crew believed there were gold fields in the province of Cicao in Haiti. He and his men ordered all natives 14 years or older to collect a certain amount of gold every three months. Natives who didn’t collect enough gold had their hands cut off. But it was an impossible task. There was virtually no gold around, only a little dust in streams. Many natives fled and were consequently hunted down and killed by the Spaniards.
Facing extermination, the Arawaks organised and attempted to fight back against the Spaniards. But they were little match against the armour, muskets, swords and horses of the Europeans. The Spaniards hung or burned Indians that they took captive. By this point, the Arawaks began committing mass suicides. They fed cassava poison to their infants to save them from the Spanish.
In two years, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead, either through murder, mutilation or suicide. By 1550, there were 500 Indians. By 1650, the Arawaks had been completely wiped out from the island so it’s imperative the offensive Columbus statue be removed.
South East Port of Spain