As Columbus Day approaches in the USA and el dia de la Raza o Hispanidad in Spain and Latin America, here are some thoughts on the extermination of Native American cultures.

columbus dayAmericans, both South Americans and North Americans mostly blame Europeans for the genocide of the different cultures that inhabited the continent.  They blame Spain for example for the killing of Aztecs, Incas and the wiping out of their culture. And that is partly right. The colonization of America was an enterprise managed by Spanish emigrants (conquistadores) who moved to what is now Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Central America, to exploit natives, enrich themselves and send precious metals back to Spain.  But the paradox in the accusation of Americans to Europeans nowadays, is that the descendants of those who exterminated native populations are now those who actually live in America not those who live in Europe. Those who are in Spain or the UK now, are actually the descendants of those who stayed in Europe and therefore did not directly commit those horrible crimes. In other words the descendants of the murderers namely those who are today Venezuelans, US citizens or Argentines, are accusing the descendants of those who were not actually part of the genocide because they stayed home, of genocide. To give an example, Daniel Ortega, of Nicaragua, has changed the name of the Columbus Day festivity from “Dia de la Hispanidad” which means day of hispanic heritage day to “Dia de la Resistencia Indígena” or day of the resistance of native Americans. But Daniel Ortega is a descendant of a Spanish family, not of Indians, thus a descendant of conquerors. His family, his ancestors share the blame.  The extermination of Native Americans is nothing to be celebrated, and it is true that Hispanidad is not a fair term as it does not include native cultures. But as far as responsibility for exploitation and extermination of native cultures is concerned, it belongs more to those who are now in America than those who are now in Europe. They are the victors of that conquest.   Moreover, a lot of the extermination of natives went on in countries beyond independence from European powers. The last armed conflicts with native Americans ended as recently as 1924 and was carried out by the US government. The territory that is now the USA, and in the 1500’s was only inhabited by native Americans, now has a native American population at less than 1% of its total population. This is ethnic cleansing on a scale that has probably never occurred anywhere else. And if you think this article refers to conflicts that are long over, think again.  Here’s an article that describe a possible armed conflict between the Brazilian government and native Americans that is going on right now.

(Photo credit:  Laurel Creativa)

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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