Faced with the indigenous movements, who see in the conquest of America an operation to exterminate pre-Columbian populations and plunder their natural resources, Felipe VI praised this Tuesday in Puerto Rico the “model of Spain’s presence in America”; a model in which, he has assured, “the new territories were incorporated into the Crown in a situation of equality with the other kingdoms”. In the City Hall of San Juan, the country’s capital, whose foundation is now celebrating its fifth centenary, the mayor, Miguel Romero, has handed over the keys to the city. The King has vindicated Juan Ponce de León, conqueror and first governor of the island, whose statue was demolished a few hours before his arrival by a group calling itself the Libertarian Forces of Borikén, a name by which the Taíno indigenous people called the island, in protest against the visit. This morning I was back on his pedestal, under police protection.
In contrast to those who only see criminals and genocides in the colonizers —which in 2020 unleashed an iconoclastic wave of attacks on statues and monuments in the United States—, Felipe VI has highlighted that in the first Hispanic cities in America “Spain promoted constructions and buildings that today, more than 500 years later, continue to house public institutions”; and they have caused the historic center of San Juan to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. Beyond architecture, Spanish colonization, he stressed, “involved the creation of government institutions, the construction of universities, schools , hospitals and printers. Spain brought with it its language, its culture, its creed; and with all this, it contributed values and principles such as the foundations of International Law or the conception of universal human rights”, he insisted.
Far from feeling ashamed of colonization, the King has called for everyone to feel “proud, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards and the rest of the Hispanic peoples” of the values and principles that Spain brought to America; “many of which are still in force and nourish the heritage of the best of democratic societies”. Some values, he has insisted, “so basic that today they seem obvious to us, but they were not in other times”, alluding to the consideration of the Indians as human beings endowed with a soul.
In Puerto Rico, indigenism is very minority, but in other Ibero-American countries the opinion about the stage of Spanish domination is much more critical and has caused clashes with the current Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) who, in 2019, claimed for written to the king of Spain asking forgiveness for the conquest. Felipe VI ignored the demand and only recently the Mexican president considered the matter settled. “They took it badly and they didn’t even reply to my letter. However, that has already happened, everyone who takes responsibility for it, ”said AMLO last week.
The King has walked the cobbled streets full of balconies that separate the Palace of the Governor of Puerto Rico from the San Juan Town Hall and has verified that in the capital of this Commonwealth of the United States “you can breathe a lot of Hispanic people, how could be otherwise”, with more than two thirds of its history under the Spanish crown.
Next, Felipe VI opened a business meeting with almost a hundred directors from Spanish and Puerto Rican companies, in which, among others, the president of the CEOE, Antonio Garamendi, and the president of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, José Luis Bonet, as well as the CEOs of Mapfre or Abertis. The King has underlined the role played by Puerto Rico as a beachhead for the landing of Spanish companies in the United States and has offered Spain to play the same role for Costa Rican companies in the EU. Although he has praised the good economic and commercial relations between the two countries, he has admitted that these “could be more fluid” for which he has urged local authorities to maintain “open communication”.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.