PROTESTS by leftists against the Spanish Columbus Day celebrations have highlighted the controversy created by the holiday across the world.

A growing movement is questioning the festivities in the US, Spain and other countries that celebrate Columbus’s “discovery” of the “New World”.

“Shame that a nation celebrates a genocide and, on top of that, with a military parade that costs €800,000” said Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, as displays by the armed forces marked the occasion in Spain yesterday.

Added the Mayor of Cádiz, María González: “We never discovered America, we massacred and suppressed a continent and its cultures in the name of God. Nothing to celebrate.”

Andalucía’s Podemos party leader, Teresa Rodríguez, agreed: “I think a national holiday should mark one’s own liberation and not the slavery of another. America was not discovered, it was invaded and looted. In America, civilisations already existed.”

In contrast, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has promoted the holiday to strengthen links between Spain and the Americas, said: “October 12 is a day for all Hispanics.”


Spanish opposition to the national holiday echoes growing discomfort with similar celebrations across the Atlantic.

In some cities in the United States, the holiday has been renamed Indigenous People’s Day to mark the fact that the explorer’s voyages brought death and destitution to the people already living in the New World.

Places like Seattle and Albuquerque are following the example of countries in Latin America such as Argentina, Mexico and El Salvador which have renamed the day as Dia De La Raza, the Day of the Race, while Venezuela now calls it the Day of Indigenous Resistance.

Last year anti-Columbus protests in Chile, launched by Mapuche activists, turned violent while indigenous tribes in Guatemala have closed down major roads all over the country in demonstrations against the holiday.

Their anger is not surprising considering that there were 300,000 people on Hispaniola – now the Dominican Republic and Haiti – when Columbus arrived from Spain in 1492, and only 500 just 50 years later.

While the Spanish sailors sent back gold and chocolate to the Old World, the indigenous people on the islands Columbus “discovered” received baubles – as well as cholera, bubonic plague, malaria, measles, typhoid, and chicken pox.

Those who didn’t die of disease were brutally killed by Spanish soldiers or enslaved. Far from being a hero, Columbus was a sadist, chopping off the natives’ hands if they refused to give him gold.


It is a curious anomaly that the US celebrates the man with a national holiday considering he never set foot in the place and didn’t even know he had landed in the Caribbean.

Columbus was, in fact, lost. The legend is that he was a fearless explorer who sailed into unknown waters others were afraid to navigate because they believed the earth was flat and they would drop off the edge.

However, many centuries earlier, the Greeks had already shown that the earth was not flat and historians believe that Columbus, along with most other educated Europeans, knew this perfectly well.

What he didn’t know was the extent of the ocean he intended to cross and he died still thinking he had discovered Asia. This was despite making four trips across the Atlantic and despite exploring the South American and Central American coasts as well as the Caribbean islands, where he acted as viceroy, ruling brutally.


There is no doubt his voyages changed human history but the celebration of the occasion is relatively recent in the US. Believed to have been born in the Italian city of Genoa – although some historians think his place of birth could have been Catalonia – Columbus was seen by the early Italian immigrants to America as a way of gaining more respect.

The explorer was already regarded as a hero by Americans of European descent so a powerful Roman Catholic group, the Knights of Columbus, lobbied for a national Columbus day as they thought widespread recognition for such a figure would help his fellow countrymen and women in their adopted country.

President Franklin Roosevelt was persuaded by their arguments and the first national Columbus Day was held in the US in 1937.

Those still in favour of the holiday argue that it has helped counteract the discrimination that immigrants often faced, and has long been a symbol of American nationalism.

Objectors argue that the day has served its purpose and is now more likely to give offence than create camaraderie.

There is no doubt that enthusiasm for the day is waning with workers, other than federal employees, in only 23 states now given a paid day off to celebrate.

The idea of a replacement holiday for Columbus Day with a counter-celebration of Native American culture was first conceived in 1977.

Seattle celebrated its second Indigenous People’s Day this year with a parade of Washington State tribes and many other cities in the US are following suit.

“This is about taking a stand against racism and discrimination,” said Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.

“Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people ... allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the marginalisation, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.”