RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The campaign to remove Confederate statues and other symbols of white supremacy here in the U.S. has been resonating overseas. In Latin America, protesters have been targeting monuments to European colonizers. John Otis reports from Bogota, Colombia.
JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: This was the scene last month in the southern Colombian city of Popayan.
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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).
OTIS: In this video posted on YouTube, Misak Indians use ropes to pull down a statue of Sebastian de Belalcazar. Then the crowd pounds it with rocks as overwhelmed police look on. Belalcazar was a Spanish conquistador. While founding Popayan in 1537, his soldiers killed and enslaved thousands of Misak Indians. Jesus Maria Aranda is a Misak leader himself and a university professor. He explains the history.
JESUS MARIA ARANDA: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: Aranda says the bust of Belalcazar was built atop a sacred Misak religious site and that their requests to have it removed were ignored by city officials.
ARANDA: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: That's why, Aranda says, the Misak took matters into their own hands.
ARANDA: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: He says, the conquistadors did so much damage to Indigenous people that their monuments should be removed all across the Americas. Targeting statues in times of political turmoil in the region is not new. In Nicaragua, monuments to the Somoza dictatorship were torn down during the 1979 Sandinista revolution. During last year's anti-government marches in Chile, Mapuche Indians toppled an effigy of the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia.
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OTIS: Valdivia established the Chilean capital city of Santiago, but he is now widely reviled for waging war on the Mapuche.
ARLENE TICKNER: Every time that these groups are faced with these kinds of public monuments, they obviously are forced to relive their conditions as victims.
OTIS: That's Arlene Tickner, an American who teaches international relations at Rosario University in Bogota. She notes that even before the Misak Indians tore down the Belalcazar statue, Colombians had been taking to the streets over a range of grievances. She says they were further inspired by protesters in the U.S.
TICKNER: In viewing the whole discussion in the United States towards historical monuments that vindicate colonizers and racists, this slowly but surely seems to be affecting the debate in different parts of Latin America.
OTIS: But the monuments have their defenders. Among them is Popayan Mayor Juan Carlos Lopez. He inspected the remains of the Belalcazar bust hours after it was torn down.
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JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
OTIS: "We are going to restore this statue and put it back on its pedestal," he vowed. "It's part of our history, a history we cannot erase." For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota, Colombia.
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