Toppled statue of Spanish explorer is pieced back together

A statue of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León that was toppled and nearly destroyed in Puerto Rico by protesters of the ‘gringo invader’ was pieced back together and raised before the arrival of ‘s King Felipe VI.

The explorer’s bronze figure was knocked down before dawn Monday by demonstrators who opposed King Felipe VI’s visit to the San Juan, the capital of the U.S. territory.

Authorities patrolling the San José Plaza in the San Juan historic district of Old San Juan found the statue lying on the ground and split in half around 4:30 a.m. 

A group known as the Borikén Libertarian Forces claimed responsibility, according to local media outlets.

‘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,’ the group wrote in a statement.

The gringo reference is to non-native Puerto Ricans who go to the area for business opportunities. 

Ponce de León, the first governor of Puerto Rico, is viewed by the group as a colonizer who oppressed those who lived on the island at the time. 

The incident comes after protesters in the US and Canada toppled statues of other controversial historical figures, including monuments to Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Virginia; Christopher Columbus in Pennsylvania, and Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II in Canada.

A statue of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was knocked to the ground in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday before dawn by demonstrators who opposed the visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI. However, authorities were able to piece the figure back together and placed it on top of the concrete pedestal by the time the king arrived in the U.S. territory

The Juan Ponce de León statue stood in the San Juan historic district of Old San Juan dating back to the 19th century. The bronze statue was toppled Monday by a group of protesters who are against the visit that Spain’s King Felipe VI made to San Juan on Monday as part of celebrations that will mark the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding

King Felipe VI (left) was given the key to the city of San Juan by  mayor Miguel Romero (right) on Tuesday

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Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico in 1493 accompanied by Ponce brindes personalizados para feira de negócios SENAB 2023 León, who became the island’s first governor and quelled an uprising by the native Tainos, a subgroup of the Arawak Indians.

Puerto Rico remained a Spanish colony until 1898, when Spain transferred the island to the United States at the end of the Spanish-American war. 

Authorities were delayed in placing the statue back on the pedestal after several demonstrators showed up and blocked their path.

Rafael Capo, a 35-year-old history teacher, climbed on top of the pedestal in protest.

‘They are defending a criminal. He murdered our Tainos and that is what you are defending right now, you should go back to school and study history,’ Capo said, as quoted by Puerto Rican newspaper .

Authorities secure the site where a statue of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León was toppled from the base of its monument

San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero told reporters that the statue would be repaired and back in its original place Monday afternoon

The King of Spain Felipe VI greets the sisters of the Siervas de Maria Convent in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday

For him, there is a direct link between the veneration of the Spanish colonial past, and Puerto Rico’s current political relationship with the United States.

‘Five hundred years later, history continues to repeat itself… They keep importing people from outside to get rid of the locals,’ he said, referring to current government policies that offer tax benefits to foreigners, mostly wealthy Americans.

The Juan Ponce de León statue was created in 1882 in New York with bronze obtained from British cannons captured after a failed attack on the Spanish in Puerto Rico in 1797.

It features the Spanish explorer facing south with his left hand on his hip and right finger pointed toward Caparra, the first settlement he founded in 1508. Ruins still mark the spot of the island’s first Spanish capital and are a U.S. National Historic Landmark

A statue of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León lays in a truck as municipal workers recover its pieces

A demonstrator holds a protest sign that reads in Spanish ‘Monarchy go to hell! Hypocritical government’ in reference to the visit made by Spain’s King Felipe VI at Plaza de Armas in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Tuesday

The statue also pointed in the direction of the nearby San Juan Bautista Cathedral, a popular tourist spot that holds Ponce de León’s remains.

King Felipe VI arrived in San Juan at 5:35 p.m, an hour before the Ponce de León statue was in its original place.

He traveled to Puerto Rico to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the founding of San Juan – the third oldest European-established capital city in the Americas.

Two years ago, activists marched through the streets of Old San Juan as they joined a nationwide movement to eradicate symbols of oppression and demanded that Spain’s legacy in Puerto Rico be erased. While some statues have been defaced with graffiti, police said this is the first time such a statue was toppled. 

The Caribbean city’s origins date back to 1521, but the official celebrations were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero presented King Felipe VI with the key to the city during a ceremony Tuesday.

‘With deep affection and emotion I receive the key to the very noble and loyal city of San Juan, which has kept the hearts of Puerto Ricans open to all Spaniards for 500 years,’ King Felipe VI said. 

He met with Governor Pierluisi at La Fortaleza, Pierluisi’s official residence and visited the Siervas de Maria Convent. 

The King of Spain Felipe VI visited the Museum of San Juan, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday. The king is in Puerto Rico to commemorate 500th anniversary of the founding of the capital San Juan, the third oldest European-established capital city in the Americas

King Felipe VI, who had not visited Puerto Rico since 2017, toured Old San Juan and visited the Museum of San Juan,

Pierluisi viewed King Felipe VI’s visit as the perfect timing to strengthen relations with Spain and its business developers. 

‘Spanish tourism has great potential for growth in Puerto Rico, particularly as a result of the new direct flights to Spain,’ Pierluisi said. 

Puerto Rican Independence Party Secretary General Juan Dalmau Ramírez was among those who opposed Felipe VI’s three-day trip, calling it an act of colonization.  

King Felipe VI is scheduled to bestow upon Romero and Pierluisi the Order of Isabella the Catholic on behalf of the Spanish government. The order acknowledges extraordinary services to the homeland, or the promotion of international relations and cooperation with other nations. 

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