CODEPINK'S Latin America team sent a letter to the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro requesting a meeting to discuss the removal of the statue of Queen Isabella from the entrance to the OAS.
Organization of American States
17th St and Constitution Ave NW
Washington DC 20006-4499
Monday, October 25, 2021
Dear Secretary General Luis Almagro,
We are writing on behalf of the Latin America team of the U.S.-based peace group CODEPINK to request that the Organization of American States remove the statue of Queen Isabella of Spain that stands in front of the OAS headquarters in Washington, and that you grant us a meeting to discuss this request.
This statue was a gift from the fascist Spanish government of General Francisco Franco in 1966. General Franco clearly looked to Queen Isabella as the embodiment of his own ideals, and of the right of white, wealthy, Christian Europeans to rule as dictators over other classes, peoples and races. But Franco’s invasion of his own country at the head of an army of mercenaries and Moroccan conscripts, his bloody conquest of Spain and his brutal 40-year dictatorship were only a postscript to the centuries-long holocaust that Queen Isabella unleashed on the people of the Americas.
From the very first contact between Queen Isabella’s expeditionary forces and the indigenous Taino people they encountered in the Caribbean in 1492, Spain’s purpose was to conquer and enslave them, and to seize their gold and anything else of material value that they possessed. Encouraged by the plunder her forces returned to lay at her feet, Queen Isabella quickly sent larger fleets and armies to expand her conquest and colonization of the Americas.
The Tainos were just one of thousands of diverse peoples, each with their own culture and language, that had evolved in the Americas over tens of thousands of years. But by 1550, almost the entire population of a million Tainos were wiped out by violence, slavery and diseases spread by their European conquerors. Scholars now believe that the population of the Americas in 1491 was about 145 million, and that the European genocide wiped out at least 90% of that population within 200 years, including many entire peoples like the Tainos.
Today, the people of the Americas are trying to learn more about our history and make amends for the wrongdoings of those ancestors who invaded and colonized the Americas. Monuments to past conquests are being torn down across the Americas. After being glorified for centuries as a symbol of European superiority, these statues are now seen as a symbol of repression that are particularly hurtful and insulting to the continents’ indigenous people.
From La Paz, Bolivia to Barranquilla, Colombia, statues of Columbus and Isabella have been splattered with blood, dressed up as indigenous leaders, and/or torn down. In Mexico City, a prominent statue of Columbus was removed in 2020, and the city announced that a beautiful pre-Columbian statue of an indigenous woman, known as the Young Woman of Amajac, will replace it on the city’s Paseo de la Reforma. Here in the United States, a statue of Isabella and Columbus that stood in the rotunda of the State Capitol of California in Sacramento since 1883 was removed in 2020, and the states of New York, Missouri, Connecticut and Ohio and the city of Philadelphia have all removed similar statues.
Removing the statue of Queen Isabella from the headquarters of the Organization of American States would be a powerful statement that the OAS and the governments of the Western Hemisphere today are committed to representing and respecting all their people. That must include the indigenous peoples who have survived 500 years of colonialism and genocide, all of which resulted from the conquests launched by Queen Isabella in 1492.
We would appreciate an opportunity to talk to you about our request to remove this deeply insulting monument to empire, genocide, colonialism, and ignorance. Thank you for your consideration.
Medea Benjamin, Leonardo Flores, Michelle Ellner and Teri Mattson
Latin America Team, CODEPINK