Given the global significance of Columbus Day, it is astonishing how many ways there are to corrupt it. The great linking of West with East, through the bridge of the newly—discovered Americas, is truly the world's coming of age story.
But in the places where its significance is most poignant, Columbus Day has descended into an incoherent festival of grievances against the past, against the West, and against the blessings of globalization. Its vehemence seems to be about something much deeper than a single event that happened 512 years ago.
Worst of all are the countries that have the most to celebrate. In the most successful nation in history, the U.S., which is the ultimate nation of the New World, Columbus Day has turned into a sort of angry Indians' day — not that most real Indians want much to do with this — in the form of another pointless leftwing carnival full of odorous anti—globalization protestors who seem to want all white people and their descendents to return to Europe. (But on your way out, kindly leave behind all medical, technological and economic advances.) If not that, then reparations and government programs will do. It's a barely disguised populist appeal for money and ultimately an undignified insult to Native Americans.
If that isn't the best way to spoil the commemoration of a great discovery, look no further than Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Spain. The hostile socialist prime minister has come up with his own way of celebrating Queen Isabella's financing of Columbus' voyages, which is Spain's greatest national achievement. Zapatero celebrated the discovery of the Americas by yanking the welcome mat for actual Americans.
In Spain, Columbus Day is recognized as National Day, and Zapatero has decided to not extend the usual invitation to U.S. Marines to march in the country's annual parade. Instead of New Worlders marching in Spain's parade, Zapatero has invited France instead. The insularity of turning inward to France instead of outward to the Americas echoes the populist isolationism of the U.S. Columbus Day protestors.
The new world and the old world have failed equally in understanding the significance of Columbus's global discovery. But the twisted incoherence is not nearly as ugly as is found in the third world.
In Venezuela, the only part of the continental Americas where Columbus actually set foot, in 1498, Venezuelans tell me the holiday has turned into an orgy of leftist lunacy. If all the world's leftist fanatics got their way with their demands, and managed to succeed in turning the holiday upside down, Venezuela's Columbus Day spectacle is about what they'd get.
Since 2002, the day itself has been renamed the 'Day of Resistance.'
In Caracas Monday, government—financed goons pulled down the bronze statue of Columbus, aping the pulldown of the ugly socialist—realist statues of Saddam Hussein, according to a chavista Web site. The grand statue had adorned the city for decades. The takedown had been pre—planned, and was done like a gang lynching. Photos show a mob pulling the statue down and dragging it around, Somalia—style, with what looks like a bloody sheet around its neck. The photos coming out from that are vile.
Even the government seems to be a little taken aback by the symbolic violence. The otherwise thuggish mayor of Caracas says he has made arrests. But the government's hands are not clean. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez has made this a day to mark "conquest and shame." Chavez also is well—known for making any occasion a racial issue, constantly attempting in his long speeches to pit blacks and Indians against whites (in a country where the races are fairly blended anyway). What better time than Columbus Day to browbeat the whites, whom Chavez calls the ruling class oligarchs, when he's not calling them cockroaches, squalid ones, and worse.
"It's not about discovery anymore," my correspondent in Caracas writes. "The government's line droned into us is that we were colonized and our Indian ancestors exterminated. So viva Chavez and our Indian origins,' he ends sarcastically.
This bacchanal of third world lunacy is in the same league as the populist demands of the U.S. protestors, the head—in—the—sand inward turn of Spain which is making itself a satellite of France, and all the anti—globalization protests seen since the Seattle WTO fiasco. It amounts to the regressive effort Shiva and V.S. Naipaul described to go back to a supposedly paradisiacal past, instead of confronting reality and progressing forward. It's the basis for all evil ideologies. And it is profoundly hostile to the spirit of discovery in the new world.