Puerto Rico statue of Spanish explorer toppled before king's visit

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 11, 2020, shows the Juan Ponce de Leon statue in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Miami, United States | A statue of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was toppled early Monday in Puerto Rico's capital San Juan, just hours before a visit to the Caribbean island by Spain's King Felipe VI.

"Some individuals approached the statue," located in a square in the historic center of San Juan, and "caused damage," according to a police report quoted by local media.

The capital's mayor, Miguel Romero, criticized the incident as an "act of vandalism" in remarks to news outlet El Nuevo Dia, but sought to downplay the significance of the incident and the extent of the damage.

Felipe VI was due later Monday in Puerto Rico, a US territory, to mark the 500th anniversary of San Juan's founding.

The city's origins date back to 1521, but the official celebrations were delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Authorities indicated they were looking at security camera footage to help identify those responsible for damaging the statue.

Local media reported that a group known as the Boriken Libertarian Forces has claimed responsibility.

"Faced with the... visit of the King of Spain, Felipe VI, to Puerto Rico and the escalation of 'gringo' invaders taking over our lands, we want to send a clear message: Neither kings nor 'gringo' invaders," the group wrote in a statement.

Puerto Rico's economy is in a serious recession.

Separately, after midday, a man climbed up onto the pedestal just where the statue had been, as his own add-on protest.

"Pro-colonial monuments really bother me a lot," the man, a 35-year-old history teacher named Rafael Capo, told AFP. 

Ponce de Leon undertook a royal mission in 1508 to explore and colonize the island, which the native Taino inhabitants called Boriken. He eventually became Puerto Rico's first governor.

The statue was forged in 1882 in New York, with bronze obtained from British cannons captured after a failed attack on the Spanish in Puerto Rico in 1797.

Because the United States obtained the island from Spain at war, people born in Puerto Rico are US citizens who can move to the US mainland if they choose.

But because people born in Puerto Rico do not have normal voting representation in the US House of Representatives and Senate, political analysts widely consider their political status to be colonial.

They have their own legislature and a non-voting envoy to the US House.

The same lack of real and full voting rights in the US House and Senate is also faced by residents of the US federal district, Washington, DC; American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands.

© Agence France-Presse

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