The Cross Rhodes Freedom Project will hand over a petition with 8, 000 signatures to Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez today at 11:00am calling for the city’s Columbus Monument to be moved from its current place of public reverence to a museum where it can be properly contextualised.
Expressions of support have come from indigenous leaders, from leading regional historians including Professors Brinsley Samaroo, Bridget Brereton, Claudius Fergus, Verene Shepard and the vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir. Hilary Beckles as well as a broad cross section of civil society groups. Even the city corporation’s own poll demonstrates overwhelming support for removal. Anything else would be a subversion of justice and the democratic will of the people of this nation.
Beyond Columbus, the CRFP is calling for the establishment of a commission to look into all the city’s landmarks similar to the one launched by Mayor Sadiq Khan in London last week which will review not only statues but also the names on public buildings, streets, plazas and plaques.
Now 58 years after Independence we cannot continue this casual celebration of colonial violence. The country’s monuments must now come to reflect our diversity and embody our highest ideals, expressing something about who we are and what we aspire to be in the context of our Caribbean civilisation.
Monuments dedicated to the public reverence of people who committed crimes against humanity, and all those who aided and abetted them in their racist barbaric adventures are not heritage but hate.
Their presence is a grotesque affront to our independence ideals and we have the right to decide what happens to them.
Those who think that this is a radical proposition must step back and see that it fits clearly with a long-standing global consensus. Germany for example, has several statues of Hitler by the renowned British sculptor Arnold Brecker.
Absolutely no one in their right mind believes that these should be put back on public display because Hitler was part of their history. There is a clear understanding that he represents something that is morally reprehensible.
The problem some of us are having in the Caribbean is that we are unable to make the connection between fascist violence against white lives and colonial violence against black and brown lives. This, is not an accident. This is what Guyanese scholar Jan Carew warned us about when he said that false heroes would, “burden not just our history, but our character as well.”
History was weaponised against the subjugated peoples during the colonial period. The idea was for the victims of genocide, slavery, indentureship and apartheid to see the perpetrators of these crimes as their heroes too.
Statues and monuments were part of this elaborate process of conditioning those who were subjected to accept the existing order with its inherited structures of wealth and privilege.
Taking public spaces back to honour real heroes will not fix all of our problems but it will help to decolonise the minds of upcoming generations and signal to the world that we have the capacity to understand our past and the will and moral character to imagine and construct a better future.
Cross Rhodes Freedom Project