Latin Americans here organise against celebrations

October 16, 1991

By Tracy Sorensen

SYDNEY — The Latin American Unity (ULAT) group here has launched a campaign against the Spanish government's celebrations to mark the "discovery" of the Americas by Christopher Columbus almost 500 years ago.

Like the Bicentennial celebrations in Australia in 1988, the lavish official project includes fleet re-enactments, romantic films about conquistadores, the unveiling of monuments and big parties to be attended by leaders of Latin American countries.

A small part of the millions being spent on the project has even found its way to Australia: the Spanish government has set aside a $100,000 grant for Spanish and Latin American groups and individuals for local celebrations.

ULAT publicity group members told Green Left that the official version of events will be answered by a protest campaign in Spain, Latin America and around the world.

For example, the mayor of the Spanish city of Cadiz, José Antonio Barroso, has announced the construction of a monument to the victims of the conquest that began in 1492. Barroso said that there was "no meeting of cultures, but a veritable clash, which brought with it conquest, exploitation, bloodshed, tears and the destruction of peoples".

"When you go to school, you celebrate the discovery of America", Graciela Ramirez, a political exile from Argentina now living in Sydney, told Green Left. "We have a great deal of denial of the history of our aboriginal population, and of our aboriginal ancestors. You can tell by the colour of our skin that the Argentineans are mestizo, which means a mix of black and white and aborigine."

ULAT's "Project 500 Years of Indigenous and Popular Resistance" aims to show the "popular version of this invasion which has been called discovery; of this conquest which has been called encounter and this plunder which has been called interchange".

The project will climax with major conferences on these themes to be held simultaneously in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in October 1992. Speakers from Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Argentina and Chile will attend. Links will be drawn between the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Latin America and Australian Aborigines.

ULAT links Australian groups in solidarity with political movements for change in Latin America. It includes social and welfare organisations serving the Latin American community in Sydney and Melbourne, with a view to extending collaboration interstate. It includes the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo support group, Chile Solidarity and the Tupamaros support group, among many others.

"We are talking about very different groups", said Ramirez. "It's a wide alliance that must be taken seriously. There were attempts before to try to form a Latin American coalition, which didn't work. Now we want to succeed, and the way to do it is step by step."

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