In the wake of global anti-racism protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the U.S., monuments connected to slavery and colonialism have become the target of Black Lives Matter protesters across the world. In the U.S., statues of Confederate leaders and the explorer Christopher Columbus have been torn down, with similar incidents taking place in the UK and Belgium where controversial monuments are being toppled.
Several Caribbean nations have also joined calls to remove statues of colonial-era figures from public spaces. In Barbados, citizens are demanding the toppling of the statue of British naval commander and slavery sympathizer Horatio Nelson while those in the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago want that of Italian explorer Columbus removed.
Online petitions that have been launched on Change.org by Caribbean nationals in the three countries are gaining steam as they have received thousands of signatures in just a few days.
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In Barbados, more than 3,000 people have signed the #NelsonMustGo petition launched by Alex Downes on Sunday to get the bronze statue of British war ‘hero’ Nelson located in Bridgetown, the heart and capital of Barbados, removed.
Nelson was the most famous admiral of the Napoleonic Wars who has been celebrated as the greatest sea warrior in British history. His most famous battle was Trafalgar, which he fought for the British to ensure Barbados didn’t fall into the hands of France.
The greatest naval victory in British history, Nelson is hailed a hero but Downes and scores of Barbadians think otherwise, adding that the admiral was against the abolition of slavery in the 1830s.
“In a country where approx. 95 percent of the population is also black, why do we continue to proudly force ourselves to relive the traumas our people have faced by having this statue stand in Heroes Square?” 30-year-old Downes asked.
“…Whatever your rationale, there is no reason for us to continue to pay homage to a man who once said: ‘I have ever been and shall die a firm friend to our present colonial system.’”
“Around the world change is happening and we as a country must look at ourselves and realise the time for change here is NOW. The time to start addressing our racist past is NOW. The time to remove Lord Nelson’s Statue from Bridgetown is NOW,” he wrote in the petition.
“The statue of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson should be removed from Heroes Square and replaced with an appropriate symbol of freedom,” he added.
Over the years, there have been attempts to remove monuments with colonial and racist legacies in the Caribbean, but anytime there is a move to take them down, a fierce debate ensues that ruins the effort, according to reports. Right from the 1970s, for example, there have been calls in Trinidad for the removal of Columbus’ statue.
The navigator and explorer, who was wrongly tagged as the one who discovered America, is widely criticized for his role in colonizing the Americans and ushering pain and suffering on indigenous Americans who lived on the continent for centuries before Europeans arrived
The current petition in Trinidad and Tobago agitating for the removal of two Columbus statues, explains: “We must face the fact […] that we continue to publicly glorify the murderous colonizer who initiated two of the greatest crimes in human history: the genocide of the Indigenous people of the Caribbean and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, both of which are at the root of the racial injustice that our generation is protesting today.”
In the Bahamas, Craig Woodside launched his petition on Sunday for the removal of the statue of Columbus, which looms over the front steps of Nassau’s Government House. He said he decided to target the navigator and colonizer as the first step toward “going after a system that represents systematic racism.”
“Seeing the atmosphere of what’s going on around the world right now and realizing we have a few statues here that represent systematic racism and oppression that they imposed on us before we took independence of our country, I decided we needed to stop talking about it” and do something, he said.