Christopher Columbus

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Over the last three days, a petition calling on Port-of-Spain mayor Joel Martinez to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from the capital city has gathered almost 7,000 signatures.

Now Martinez is calling on the public to weigh in on whether they believe the statue should be removed.

In an interview with Guardian Media, Martinez said he encourages conversation about the monument and is hoping to start a poll over the next few days to find out what the population thinks about the removal of the statue.

Martinez said the poll has been published on the Port-of-Spain City Corporation’s Facebook page.

The man who started the petition on Tuesday morning, Shabaka Kambon told Guardian Media that this is not the first time he has petitioned the mayor for the removal of the statue, located almost on the edge of the city at Independence and Duncan Streets.

Kambon is the director of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project.

“When we first started a petition in 2018, we got about 2,000 signatures in about three months,” Kambon said yesterday.

“Now we have almost 5,000 signatures in under two days time and I have confidence we will cross 6,000 by the end of today (Wednesday.) We are quite confident that the majority of Trinidadians do not want to continue to celebrate genocide, rape, slavery, and these are all of the things that Columbus represents.”

Kambon said when people like Columbus are revered, it erases from history the efforts of the local heroes who fought against the oppression.

He said Columbus’ statue should not be kept in a prominent place in the city.

“We can have no equivocation around the statue of Christopher Columbus, this man is responsible for initiating the genocide of indigenous people of the entire continent, one of the greatest acts of thefts, one of the greatest crimes of humanity but that’s not all, Christopher Columbus is also the initiator of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

Referencing international incidents where statues of Columbus were torn down and destroyed in Boston and Virginia, Kambon said it would be a shame if the same thing happened to the local monument.

He believes it should be removed before that happens and placed in a museum.

“If the city does not respond in due time, it’s not going to be me, but that statue might not survive probably into the weekend,” Kambon said.

Guardian Media reached out to Professor Emerita of History at the University of the West Indies, Bridget Brereton for her thoughts on the petition.

Brereton said she believes the time has come for the statue to be removed.

And she agreed that it should be placed in a museum.

“I think there is a good case for removing the statue, removing it respectfully and placing it in the national museum with appropriate text because obviously he is a man who had a great impact on Trinidad’s history but we also know he symbolises all the horrors that happened with European conquests and the genocide against the Native people,” Brereton said.

“I think there is a good argument for it not being in a prominent public space in the capital city.”

Asked if she thought another statue should be erected if Columbus’ is removed, Brereton said that may not be a good idea.

“I would not replace it with a statue of anyone at all, it would be impossible to find a figure who would command universal respect from the citizens.”