Spain’s King Felipe has said Puerto Rico is a “model” of colonialism, as he hit back at protestors who tore down a conquistador statue on his arrival on the island.
In a speech to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of Puerto Rico’s capital, he praised conquistadors for bringing European civilisation and values to the New World.
His comments stand in contrast to Prince Charles’s, who denounced the “atrocity of slavery” when Barbados removed the Queen as head of state in November.
In response to King Felipe’s visit, protesters in Puerto Rico attacked “Spanish tyranny” and toppled a statue of Juan Ponce de León, an explorer who was with Columbus when Spanish ships first reached the island.
They took aim at the Spanish empire which annihilated the indigenous community on the island, who were laid waste by disease and a regime of forced labour.
“The king’s presence here is non grata. It validates many crimes against humanity that happened here,” said Jorge García Muñiz at a street protest in San Juan.
A day later King Felipe said that Puerto Ricans and all Hispanic communities in the Americas should feel “proud of our shared past, of those values Spain provided back then and which are still valid today”.
In his speech, he offered no apology or recognition of the suffering of the indigenous Taino population. Instead, he described the colonisation of Puerto Rico as a “model” of Spanish expansion in the Americas, with all territories being treated as equal under the rule of the Spanish Crown.
He argued that Spanish colonisation had brought “government institutions, the building of universities, schools, hospitals and printing presses”.
“Spain brought with it its language, its culture, its creed, and with all this it contributed values and principles such as the foundations of international law or the conception of universal human rights,” he said.
King Felipe on a tour of La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico, in San Juan on Tuesday Credit: Royal House/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The speech was King Felipe’s strongest defence yet of Spanish colonialism, as leaders of Latin American countries and indigenous communities increasingly seek apologies or reparations from Madrid.
In 2019, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican president, wrote to King Felipe asking for the Spanish monarch to apologise for the “massacres and oppression” of Mexico’s indigenous communities.
King Felipe said nothing and left it to Spain’s government to issue a reply that rejected the Mexican leader’s interpretation of the conquest of Mexico.
“The arrival of Spaniards in what are now Mexican lands 500 years ago cannot be judged in the light of contemporary thinking,” the Spanish government said.
“Our peoples have always been able to interpret our shared past without anger and with a constructive perspective.”