Reuters Newswire [UK]
Sat Oct 11, 4:21 PM ET
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged Latin Americans on Saturday not to celebrate Columbus Day, saying the 1492 discovery of the Americas triggered a 150-year "genocide" of native Indians by foreign conquerors who behaved "worse than Hitler".
"Christopher Columbus was the spearhead of the biggest invasion and genocide ever seen in the history of humanity," the populist president told a meeting in Caracas of representatives of Indian peoples from across the continent.
Columbus Day on Oct. 12 is celebrated as a holiday in the United States and several Latin American nations, but Chavez said it should be remembered as the "Day of Indian Resistance."
"We Venezuelans, we Latin Americans, have no reason to honor Columbus," he added.
The Venezuelan leader said Spanish, Portuguese and other foreign conquerors had massacred South America's Indian inhabitants at an average rate of roughly "one every 10 minutes." He described Spanish conquistadors like Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro, as "worse than Hitler."
He said even the continent's geographical names, like America and Venezuela, were imposed by foreigners.
Chavez's opponents, who are seeking a referendum to try to vote him out of office, say his self-styled "revolution" in the world's No. 5 oil exporter is aimed at installing an anti-U.S. communist system like the one in Cuba. Chavez says his brand of left-wing nationalism will make Venezuela more independent.
The Venezuelan leader hailed as heroes Indian chiefs who had fought against the invaders, such as Guaicaipuro who resisted the Spanish founders of Caracas, and American Indian chief Sitting Bull, who defeated U.S. Gen. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.
"Long live Sitting Bull!" Chavez declared, drawing applause from his audience, many of whom wore traditional native clothes and head-dresses.