In Puerto Rico’s Ponce de Leon statue controversy, an old debate resurfaces
Juan Ponce de León—a Spanish explorer who reached Florida in 1513—was the first known European to set foot in the present-day US state. Eventually, Juan Ponce de León became determined to colonize Puerto Rico, before becoming its first governor. Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony until after the Spanish-American war when the islands became a US territory. Due to his history, a statue of Ponce de León has stood in Puerto Rico’s Plaza San José in the capital city, San Juan. However, earlier this month, the statue was allegedly destroyed by the group Boriken Libertarian Forces, a few hours before the current King of Spain Felipe VI was due to arrive in Puerto Rico to commemorate the 500th anniversary of San Juan’s founding.
The statue of Juan Ponce de León has been a topic of continued controversy over the years, and with the recent destruction of the statue, an old debate has once again, resurfaced. As far back as 1947, people have taken issue with the statue, whether they want to preserve history or not glorify a controversial figure.
El Imparcial was a Puerto Rican pro-independence tabloid that once published, “THE STATUE OF PONCE DE LEON SHOULD NOT BE REMOVED.” This debatable and controversial article argues that historical principles should be preserved by the government. The followers of this debate agree that tradition, remembrance of ancestors, and preservation of ancient architecture are crucial in the telling of the history of Puerto Rico’s development and current society. They argued the statue of Juan Ponce de León should stay.
In opposition, are those that believe the statue of Ponce de León should be removed. They argue that the colonization of Puerto Rico should not be glorified or consecrated. Protestors contend that Juan Ponce de León, who arrived in San Juan alongside Christopher Colombus, subjected the Indigenous Taíno people to brutality, enslavement, and trepidation. Boriken Libertarian Forces, the group who toppled the statue, declared that ‘gringo’ invaders are acquiring their land unlawfully.
This debate has struck major controversy for decades. Tabloids such as El Imparcial have proclaimed their opinion on this problematic subject with inquisitive people since the early 1900s. The inhabitants of Puerto Rico, and the rest of the world, are then left to consider: is preserving historical values imperative, or does this condemn colonization?