Things That Matter

Activist Group Topples Statue of Juan Ponce De León in Response to the Visit of Spanish King: ‘Neither Kings nor Gringo Invaders’

On Monday, in the early hours of the morning, a prominent statue of famous historical figure and Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León was torn to the ground in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

According to local reports, the group Fuerzas Libertarias De Borikén has taken responsibility for the toppling. The message is clear: we do not glorify Spanish colonization. 

The statue showed Ponce de León, with his hand on his hip, pointing towards the first settlement he founded — the island’s first Spanish capital.

The timing of the statue’s toppling was not coincidental. Today, King Felipe VI is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the founding of San Juan by Spanish colonists. 

But not all Puerto Ricans are happy about the visit. To many, the Spanish Royal Family is a symbol of a bygone era of violence and colonialism. 

As Fuerzas Libertarias De Borikén wrote in a Spanish statement to the press: “Faced with the visit of the King of Spain, Felipe VI, to Puerto Rico and the escalation of Gringo invaders taking over our lands, we want to send a clear message: Neither kings nor gringo invaders. Borikén is ours.”

Fuerzas Libertarias De Borikén explained that Juan Ponce De León — the first governor of Puerto Rico — was “imposed by the tyranny of Spain” and “represents the worst.”

And indeed, the legacy of Juan Ponce De León is not a fairytale. De León was a Spanish conquistador who traveled with Christopher Columbus. He violently suppressed a Taíno uprising on the island of Hispaniola and grew rich off of the exploitation of Indigenous peoples and land. 

“[Ponce de León] was the ringleader of the crushing of our Taino ancestors who resisted under the leadership of Agüeybaná El Bravo,” the group wrote. 

As for the Puerto Rican government, they have condemned the vandalism of the statue of Juan Ponce de León and say that they will restore it to its former glory. 

“Opinions are to be respected. What we’re not going to tolerate is vandalism,” San Juan mayor Miguel Romero told the Associated Press. “The Spaniards from 500 years ago are not the same ones of today.”

“It’s a shame, first because that statue has been there for time immemorial,” Mayor Romero said in an interview with WKAQ radio. “The only one who is harmed is the people of Puerto Rico, because now they have to replace it and make a new sculpture, which is expensive. In the end, now we have to use money to fix this instead of us using money to fill potholes on the highway.”

As of now, there is quite a bit of debate happening on the internet over whether the statue’s toppling was justified or not.

“This is such a childish thing to do. We are all adult here. Trying to destroy the past will never erase it,” wrote one Twitter user. To which another responded: “Statues are not history, that’s what books are for. Statues are for glorification.”

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