Mexico’s Indigenous Purepecha knock down statues of Spanish colonial-era priest

Activists from Mexico’s Purepecha people used axes and sledgehammers Monday to knock down statues of their ancestors being forced to haul and work stones by a colonial-era Spanish priest.

The Purepechas have objected to the statues since they were erected in 1995 in the capital of western Michoacán state, Morelia, and have repeatedly called for them to be taken down.

The life-size statues depict Spanish priest Fray Antonio de San Miguel ordering one nearly naked Purepecha to cut a stone block, while another is depicted hauling a stone away on his back.

A fourth figure in the group, known as the “Statue of the Builders,” represents an anonymous Spanish town planner standing nearby holding papers.

The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacán said the statues glorified the brutal exploitation of their ancestors, who continued to resist the Spanish after the rival Aztec empire to the east fell to the conquistadores in 1521.

“2022 marks 500 years since the conquest and invasion of Michoacán that occurred in June 1522,” the council said in a statement. “During the invasion of what is today Michoacán, the Spanish enslaved thousands of Indigenous people.”

“Five hundred years after the invasion of Michoacán, the Indigenous people continue to resist and fight as our grandfathers did.”

The council distributed photos of some of the statues knocked to the ground, with activists smashing them to bits.

The head of the destroyed statue of Fray Antonio de San Miguel is pictured after it was pulled down by members of the Indigenous council during a protest in Morelia, Mexico, on Feb. 14, 2022.Calli Alejandra / Reuters

Fray Antonio de San Miguel oversaw efforts in the 1780s to build an aqueduct to supply Morelia with water.

In 2020, the city’s cultural heritage body issued a statement defending the monument.

“You just have to read the simple and clear plaque on the monument to feel pride in our city, the birthplace of great thinkers,” read the statement, which denied that slave labor was used to build the city.

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