Historical commemorations can certainly be controversial. Some historical anniversaries and commemorative displays produce repeated political battles and widespread controversy. In other cases, new additions to ceremonies or historical sites can produce fresh wounds and localized resistance.
An incident this week involving a historical plaque in Cartegena, Colombia, has created a new controversy over how to commemorate an eighteenth-century amphibious attack on the city. In 1741, British naval and military forces under Admiral Vernon landed and besieged the Spanish imperial city of Cartegena during the War of the Austrian Succession (sometimes referred to as the War of Jenkin’s Ear).
A new plaque commemorating the soldiers killing in the fighting apparently offended many local Colombians. A Cartegenan man, who is now being called the “hammer man,” wielded a sledgehammer to attack the plaque and garnered widespread support.
Colombian political culture can apparently simultaneously celebrate Colombian independence from Spain and still celebrate aspects of its Spanish imperial heritage, including antipathy toward Spain’s eighteenth-century enemies.
This incident is a good reminder of the potential of historical commemorations to produce unexpected controversies and political situations.
The New York Times reports on the controversy in Colombia.