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Statue of Spanish explorer toppled in Puerto Rico ahead of king’s visit

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A statue of Puerto Rico’s first colonial governor was toppled overnight in San Juan ahead of a visit by King Felipe VI of Spain to commemorate 500 years of the Caribbean capital’s founding.

Officers patrolling Old San Juan heard a “loud bang” at 4:30 a.m. Monday and found the statue of Juan Ponce de León toppled in pieces, The Associated Press reported.

Felipe is due to land in San Juan on Monday afternoon and will attend a series of receptions with Gov. Pedro Pierluisi (D) and other dignitaries on Tuesday.

The statue of Ponce de León is representative of the roughly 3 1/2 centuries of Spanish rule over the island.

Ponce de León was one of the first Spanish explorers to visit the Americas — his first trans-Atlantic voyage was Christopher Columbus’s second expedition in 1493.

Like many Spanish explorers of the era, Ponce de León left a mixed record of expeditionary tenacity and cruelty against native populations.

Commemorations marking 500 years of Spanish colonialism have been a mixed bag throughout Latin America. In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador demanded apologies from Spain and the Vatican for colonial treatment of Native Americans.

Felipe’s visit to Puerto Rico stands out as a visit to a Latin American territory that did not replace Spanish colonial rule with independence.

Puerto Rico was ceded by Spain to the United States after the 1898 Spanish-American War and has since been a U.S. territory, with U.S. citizenship for its inhabitants since 1917 and expanded self-governance since the 1950s.

While the island’s status has long been derided by some as colonialism, in recent years more Puerto Ricans of all political stripes have adopted the moniker amid rekindled debate over the democratic flaws of territorial status. 

Tags Pedro Pierluisi Puerto Rico Spain

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