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Mayas protest monument to Spanish conquistadors

August 11, 2010 | 11:28 am

Montejo monument wiki The city of Merida on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula is reviewing a petition to remove a recently built public monument to the city's colonial founder, a figure whom some indigenous Mayas regard as a violent conquistador. The municipal government accepted the petition from a coalition of Mayan organizations to reconsider the monument and statues depicting Francisco de Montejo, known as "El Adelantado," and his son, also named Francisco and known as "El Mozo." The younger Montejo established Merida in 1542, on the site of the former Maya city of T'ho.

The statues, showing the two Montejo men in classic conquistador armor, were erected in June on a roundabout on an emblematic boulevard also named after Francisco de Montejo. Outgoing Mayor Cesar Bojorquez Zapata inaugurated the monument on the last day of his term (link in Spanish), at the request of local historians and businessmen who argued that the founder of modern Merida should be memorialized in some way on the city's major streets.

The push was headed by historian Juan Peon Ancona, who said at the inauguration, according to a newspaper's video of the event, that the erection of a monument to the Montejos is an example of "historical justice and maturity."

"Welcome Montejo," Peon said. "Why have you taken so long to get here?"

Bojorquez, the former Merida mayor, is a member of the conservative National Action Party. The party lost its hold on Merida in elections in May after two decades of continuous terms in city hall. The new mayor, Angelica Araujo, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, could potentially be more sympathetic to the indigenous groups' concerns, said a report at the website Yucatan Living. A new city council is expected to take up the issue.

Here is the text of the Maya groups' letter to Araujo's government, in Spanish.

The overall conquest of the Yucatan and the Maya civilization is one of the bloodiest and longest in the history of the Western Hemisphere, facts which other historians and yucatecos say is offensively disregarded in a monument to "El Adelantado" and "El Mozo."

As emissaries of the Spanish crown, the Montejo men led bands of conquistadors into numerous bloody battles against indigenous resisters between 1528 and 1546, killing thousands of Maya. The indigenous population of the Yucatan Peninsula then succumbed to widespread slavery on hacienda plantations and the general suppression of their culture.

"This represents an insult for the Maya nation," Maya activist Artemio Kaamal, told the Associated Press. "This injures the identity and roots of the Mayan people."

Another local historian, Genner de Jesus Llanes Ortiz, points out on his blog that Merida is a "multicultural city," with 42% of its population described as culturally and linguistically Maya, according to government figures (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: The monument in Merida to the Montejo conquistadors. Credit: Wikimedia Commons