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Dear Editor: Columbus monument falls in Martinique but legal battle looms for activist Fanywa Afua

“Fanywa has courageously resolved not to pay the fine or to allow others to pay it for her. She has refused to appeal the case declaring that she is prepared to go to jail on the principle that ‘Caribbean people have already paid enough for the crimes committed by Christopher Columbus’, whom she describes as a ‘barbarian’.”

The following Letter to the Editor about the legal case against Martinican activist Fanywa Afua for defacing a monument to Christoper Columbus in Martinique was sent to Wired868 by the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project:

Photo: Martinican activist Fanywa Afua and politician Garcin Malsa being held by police. (Courtesy Cross Rhodes Freedom Project)

A monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus in Martinique has been renamed in honour of the indigenous people after a successful protest, but the struggle is far from over for local activist Fanywa Afua. The courts have elected to punish her for the very actions she took to bring about the historic change on the Caribbean island. 

In 2017, Fanywa, whose given name is Sandrine Toussay, overcame threats and bullying from onlookers to spray paint a plaque at the center of a large monument that glorified the 15th century Genovese navigator, enslaver and mass murderer, which had been erected in the town of Carbet two years earlier as a tourist attraction. In response to this courageous action, and in light of the fact that monuments to Columbus are increasingly seen across the world as celebrating genocide, the city council agreed to launch a public consultation. 

Discussions quickly revealed the abject vulgarity of venerating the criminal at the scene of his crimes. The so-called ‘discovery of the New World’ was exposed as an invasion and occupation of the Caribbean, featuring one of the most brutal regimes of terror in all of known human history and something that should never be the subject of public reverential monuments.

In December 2018, the council passed a decree renaming the ‘Place du débarquement de Christophe Colomb’ the ‘Place du Mémorial du Peuple Amérindien’. 

It is deplorable that the legal machinery did not stop moving against the activist/heroine at this point. On the morning of 17 June 2019, the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project (CRFP) was present in Fort-de-France to lend support to Fanywa as the courts elected to fine her for defacing a public monument and refusing to submit to fingerprints. Another charge of assaulting a police officer, stemming from an interrogation by the Gendarmerie Nationale in which eye witness accounts indicate that she was the one assaulted, was dropped. 

Fanywa has courageously resolved not to pay the fine or to allow others to pay it for her. She has refused to appeal the case declaring that she is prepared to go to jail on the principle that ‘Caribbean people have already paid enough for the crimes committed by Christopher Columbus’, whom she describes as a ‘barbarian’.

Photo: Portrait of Christopher Columbus

The CRFP has launched a petition calling on the authorities responsible in both Martinique and France to end this miscarriage of justice and to expunge all charges from Fanywa’s record, cognisant that France has legislation providing penalties of up to €45,000 and a year in jail for those found guilty of denying, or ‘minimising’ the crime of genocide. Logically, this law should penalise those who erect monuments to Columbus instead of those who take them down.

Just last year, Sir Hilary Beckles defended the illegal action of those who defaced Nelson’s statue in Bridgetown, Barbados, comparing it to the breaking of an ‘unjust law’ by freedom fighter Rosa Parks in Alabama, USA in 1955. Beckles noted that after her heroic action, “the spring of freedom flooded the nation […] Today, the same lady, who broke the law, Rosa Parks, is revered as the mother of the civil rights movement and a globally celebrated icon in the advancement of humanity and democracy.”

The CRFP sees Fanywa’s action in this light. Caribbean people should not have to accept public spaces occupied by reverential monuments to the likes of Christopher Columbus.

The organisation calls on all regional authorities to accept and implement the 13 October 2017 resolution of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, calling for all statues and memorials dedicated to the public reverence of persons who committed crimes against humanity, and all those who aided and abetted them, to be removed from places of public celebration. We call on Caribbean people to support Fanywa by signing the petition on the CRFP’s website, crossrhodestt.com, or on its Facebook page, Rhodes Must Fall Caribbean.

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