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Wednesday, October 14, 1998 Published at 02:38 GMT 03:38 UK

World: Americas

Christopher Columbus - on trial

For many indigenous people the anniversary is no cause for celebration

Indigenous groups in Honduras carried a "death sentence" on the famous explorer Christopher Columbus after a mock trial for crimes they say he committed more than 500 years ago.

Columbus was "charged" with genocide and robbery in connection with his first landfall in the Americas in 1492, the anniversary of which fell on Monday.

[ image: Removing the arrows from their target]
Removing the arrows from their target
A painting of the explorer - showing him in his 15th century cap and tunic - had nine arrows shot into it by three Indian archers.

Known as Columbus Day in the United States and Hispanic Day in Argentina, 12 October was a public holiday across the Americas.

But for many of the continents' indigenous inhabitants, the anniversary of the first European arrival on their continent is no cause for celebration.

Old wounds, modern grievances

For the leaders of the 2,000 or so Indians gathering in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, Columbus' arrival marked the beginning of 500 years of genocide and theft at the hands of European conquerors.

[ image: A Lenca tribesman guards the statue of Honduran hero Lempira Eroe]
A Lenca tribesman guards the statue of Honduran hero Lempira Eroe
Their sentencing of Columbus for these alleged crimes follows similar demonstrations in 1997, when activists tore down a statue of he adventurer that stood in the centre of Tegucigalpa.

This year, they plan to replace it with a statue of an indigenous chief who was killed fighting the Spanish invaders.

The protests are intended to draw attention to contemporary grievances.

[ image: Anti-Columbus demos in Chile]
Anti-Columbus demos in Chile
Indigenous leaders are demanding the return of ancestral lands they say were seized from them by force and the fulfilment of government promises of aid for their impoverished communities.

BBC Americas analyst James Read says that if Columbus were able to speak in his own defence, he might argue that he was being sentenced for the crimes of those that followed him, rather than for his own.

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