Puerto Rican Archbishop Condemns Toppling of Colonist’s Statue Ahead of Spanish King’s Visit

King Felipe VI's visit marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of San Juan, and is meant to strengthen commercial exchange.

The statue of Juan Ponce de Leon in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The statue of Juan Ponce de Leon in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (photo: Courtesy photo / P. Hughes via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0))

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Archbishop of San Juan de Puerto Rico, Roberto Octavio González Nieves, expressed his sorrow and repudiated the demolition of the city’s statue of Juan Ponce de León, a Spanish colonizer who was Puerto Rico’s first governor.

“I would like to express my sadness over the acts that led to the demolition of the statue of the first governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León. Said action must draw our strongest feeling of repudiation,” the archbishop said in a Jan. 24 statement.

Cae la estatua del colonizador español Juan Ponce de León, símbolo de la represión, la colonización y la violencia, coincidiendo con la visita del rey español, Felipe VI. Estaba ubicada en la plaza San José de la calle San Sebastián en el Viejo San Juan.#HistoriaDecolonial pic.twitter.com/NqwXpi5Tms

— CIHTAD-PR (@cihtad) January 24, 2022

The statue was torn down the night of Jan. 23-24, shortly before the visit of Felipe VI, the king of Spain, to the U.S. territory. The statue was reinstalled later on Jan. 24.

King Felipe’s visit marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of San Juan, and is meant to strengthen commercial exchange.

Archbishop González said that “any feeling of recrimination that one has with the facts of our historical past, is not resolved with acts of vandalism or damaging historical places or places valuable for tourism.”

The prelate said that “to protest past events you have to act uprightly, openly and without violence.”

“Past injustices are rectified through orderly processes of reparation. The mistakes and wounds of the past are corrected through decisions and actions achieved as a result of a dialogue, coordinated by the Government, between the social, economic, educational, cultural and political institutions of the country,” he commented.

The prelate also stressed that "past errors cannot be remembered in order to act with a present marked by violence, but rather we all must learn from these errors by taking steps forward with a reconciling, healing spirit and with respectful, open and fruitful dialogue.”

Archbishop González acknowledged that “in the process of the conquest and colonization of Puerto Rico, blows were suffered that still require reparation and healing, such as the mistreatment of indigenous people, slavery and colonialism.”

However, he said that “during recent centuries Puerto Rico has achieved a relationship of friendship and brotherhood with Spain.”

“For example, cultural exchange, economic trade and specifically the aid from Caritas Spain to Caritas Puerto Rico have been significant blessings and have helped overcome the disasters of the recent hurricanes,” he added.

The Archbishop of San Juan de Puerto Rico extended “a cordial, fraternal and affectionate welcome” to King Felipe, and asked "our people to pray that his visit may be of benefit to our sister nations, Spain and Puerto Rico.”

“I hope that this visit of His Majesty is an important occasion to strengthen the Hispanic and Christian roots that define us as a civilized and respectful people.”

“This visit not only invites us to look at the past, but also at the future, strengthening our roots of Hispanicity, faith and language. In a word, that it may reaffirm our Puerto Rican national identity in the mosaic of the families of humanity,” the archbishop concluded.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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