At 4:30 a.m. AST this morning, a statue of Juan Ponce de León was found toppled in Plaza San José de San Juan and shattered by the impact. The statue’s removal came just hours before King Felipe VI of Spain arrived for a planned visit to Puerto Rico to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the founding of Old San Juan, the oldest city in the United States. and its territories.
Responsibility for the toppling of the statue, which the mayor of San Juan denounced as an “act of vandalism”, was claimed by a group called the Libertarian Forces of Boriken. (Boriken is the name the indigenous Taíno inhabitants used for the island.)
“In the face of the visit of the King of Spain, Felipe VI, to Puerto Rico and the escalation of ‘gringo’ invaders taking over our lands, we want to send a clear message: neither kings nor ‘gringo’ invaders” , the band wrote in a report.
Ponce de León was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who served as the first governor of Puerto Rico and amassed considerable wealth by forcing the island’s native Taínos into brutal servitude on plantations and in mines as part of the encomienda system. Symbols of his legacy – as well as the broader legacy of Spanish colonial rule – have become focal points for withdrawal and activism around decolonization.
Located in Old San Juan, historically the city’s colonial district, the statue has previously served as a landmark where activists gathered to demand that the Puerto Rican government remove statues associated with Spanish rule. A US National Historic Landmark, the statue shows León with his left hand on his hip, his right finger pointing directly ahead, wearing a shirt with ruffles over the cuff, a coat with sleeves that reach his elbows, trousers and long boots, the all surmounted by a hat adorned with a long feather.
Cast in 1882 in New York from the molten steel of British cannons, the statue was given to Puerto Rico in commemoration of the island’s successful defense against the British in 1797. The statue faced San Juan Cathedral Bautista, the second oldest church. in the Western Hemisphere, which contains the remains of León.
“These statues represent this whole history of violence, invasion, looting, theft, murder,” said Pluma, an activist and member of the Puerto Rican Council for the Defense of Indigenous Rights. told the Associated Press during the July 2020 protests. “These are crimes against humanity.”
The mayor said the statue will be returned to its place by the end of the day.