Miami's Anti-Racism Protests Get Caught In Our Columbus And Che Hypocrisies
Miami isn’t just the so-called capital of Latin America. It’s also a top dance floor for Latin American hypocrisies, right-footed or left-footed. And we’ve watched a dazzling performance of that South Florida fandango during the anti-racism protests – by folks who want to dance around the truth about Christopher Columbus and Che Guevara.
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When I lived in Mexico City in the 1990s, every October 12th – commemorating the day Columbus ran into the Bahamas on his way to Asia – protesters tried to pull down his statue on the Paseo de la Reforma.
They did it for the same reason protesters in the U.S. are toppling Confederate statues. The brutal enslavement of people in Latin America – which Columbus not only ushered in but took part in – was a crime on par with the brutal enslavement of people in North America.
Now that the explorer’s statues are being targeted in U.S. cities like Miami, we’re hearing one argument after another here that Columbus’ sins shouldn’t be compared to Robert E. Lee’s. They’re disingenuous at best.
I don’t condone vandalizing statues any more than I condone looting. But if defacing property is offensive, so is whitewashing history. Cubans, Mexicans or Brazilians who try to downplay what their conquering Spanish or Portuguese forebears did in this hemisphere are guilty of the same “Lost Cause” mindset that traps so many U.S. Southerners.
Yes, it took brass to do what Columbus did on his first voyage in 1492. I don’t deny the tectonic historical importance of that accomplishment. Nor am I suggesting people of Spanish and Italian descent (the Italian-born Columbus’ real name was Cristoforo Colombo, btw) shouldn’t derive pride from his feat.
Here in Miami we're being treated to a dazzling fandango of Latin American hypocrisies – by folks who want to dance around the truth about Christopher Columbus and Che Guevara.
What I am suggesting is that his fans should derive a little perspective from the historical record. The heroic navigator was also a horrible violator. A century before the American colonies started receiving slaves from Africa, Columbus upon his very arrival in the Americas was sending indigenous slaves to Spain. As a colonial governor, according to documents like those discovered in Spain in 2005, he ordered vicious crackdowns on indigenous unrest and liked to parade tortured and disfigured subjects through the streets.
So the let’s-can-Columbus outcry has a point. What ruins the point, though, is crying out while waving pictures of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Guevara was Fidel Castro’s Argentine sidekick when their communist revolution took power in Cuba in 1959. A bloodthirsty and homophobic sidekick, by most accounts. But that hasn’t stopped a lot of protesters in Miami from unfurling Guevara’s oh-so-romantic and oh-so-crassly-commercialized likeness during street demonstrations in recent days.
Any humane person admires the egalitarian ideals Guevara crusaded for. But it's hard for any humane person to ignore his cold-blooded record in that crusade. His devotees all too conveniently forget (if they ever knew to begin with) that Guevara ruthlessly ordered hundreds of the thousands of executions of Cubans meant to purge the island of real or imagined anti-revolutionaries.
Many of those killed were indeed vicious war criminals loyal to the Batista dictatorship. But studies indicate many others were “just anybody Che considered a threat to the revolution, anybody who stood in the way,” says former University of Miami professor and Cuban exile Andy Gomez – who points out Guevara was also, like Castro, "a notorious homophobe."
Note that Gomez is hardly a fire-breathing exile hardliner; he’s one of Miami’s more moderate Cuba analysts. Like, say, the Fundación Bases – a moderate think-tank in Guevara’s hometown of Rosario, Argentina, which a few years ago started a petition drive to remove Che monuments there because of what it called “the massacres” attributed to him during Cuba’s revolution.
Why, then, aren't more lefties trying to pull down Che statues, like the one depicting him in New York’s Central Park? Because most lefties are too caught up in their dogmatic Che double standards – his rebel-in-a-beret brand trumps his lust for firing squads and denigration of homosexuals – to ever fall out of love with the flowing hair and ¡venceremos! pout of his Alberto Korda portrait.
Then again, we’re all guilty of historical hypocrisy. If we’re not giving Columbus a pass we’re sliding one to slave-owning Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson; if it’s not Guevara it’s Robespierre. (Of course the whole guillotine thing was unfortunate, but….)
Maybe this year’s long overdue racial reckoning will teach us a more honest dance step. Especially here in the capital of Latin America.