Santa Rosa First Peoples Arima Chief Ricardo Hernandez speaks about the removal of Christopher Columbus statue during the launch of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project at Tamarind Square, Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, recently. (Image: NICOLE DRAYTON)

Anna-Lisa Paul

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has promised to hold widespread public consultations regarding the removal of statues/sculptures that glorify colonisers and members of the slave trade soon after the August 10 General Election results are announced.

He made the promise during the opening of the Bagatelle Community Centre in Diego Martin yesterday, as he acknowledged the calls and public discussions that continue to surround the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Port-of-Spain.

Approximately three weeks ago, the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (CRFP) delivered a petition with over 8,000 signatures to Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez calling for the city’s Columbus monument to be removed due to its association with the country’s colonisers.

In a statement then, the CRFP said, “Fifty-eight years after Independence we cannot continue this casual celebration of colonial violence. The country’s monuments must now come to reflect our diversity and embody our highest ideals, expressing something about who we are and what we aspire to be in the context of our Caribbean Civilization.”

The CRFP proposed that the statue be moved from its current place of public reverence, next to Tamarind Square, to a museum where it can be properly contextualised. The organisation claimed to have expressions of support from indigenous leaders and regional historians, including Professors Brinsley Samaroo, Bridget Brereton, Claudius Fergus, Verene Shepard and UWI Vice-chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles.

Beyond Columbus, the CRFP also called for the establishment of a commission to review all the city’s similar landmarks as well as the names on public buildings, streets, plazas and plaques.

Describing history as a changing tapestry yesterday, Rowley said, “If there is need to change because you are not satisfied with the role that the existent is playing…then we need not fight one another over change. Columbus has gone a long time ago, let’s not fight over the statue.”

He added, “If we are no longer prepared to accept a colonial relic elevated in our midst, then let’s just look at it civilly and decide if he should be on a pedestal in Port-of-Spain or in the museum.”

However, the PM hastened to add, “But there is one thing you can’t do…you can’t write a textbook for any of our children and truthfully say that Columbus the Italian did not go to Spain and sail to the Western world and had a tremendous impact on all of us here in T&T, good, bad or indifferent.”

Voicing agreement with the call for change, Rowley said, “I say yes for change but not change in mob rule, and change without information, change with knowledge and an appreciation that whether the story was good or bad, we need to know it. More importantly, our children need to know it.”

Once the election is completed, Rowley promised, “We are going to get some community conversations going at the national level and determine what we do about this matter in a very civil, sane and sober way.”

He said while, “some statues will survive and some may not, but we do so on the basis of knowledge.”