Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum says that a statue of Christopher Columbus will be swapped for one of an indigenous woman from the Olmec civilization.

Mayor Sheinbaum announced on Sunday that the replacement of the Italian explorer was not an attempt to erase history, but to deliver “social justice.” Sheinbaum made the statement at a ceremony marking the international day of the indigenous woman.

The mayor said that the statue “would not be hidden away” but that indigenous culture should receive greater recognition. Sculptor Pedro Reyes is working on the statue to replace Columbus, which will be of a woman from the Olmec civilization – prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico from 1200 BC to 400 BC.

The 19th-century Columbus statue has been absent from its usual spot since October last year, when it was removed “for restoration purposes” two days before a protest marking the arrival of the explorer in 1492.

Before the statue’s removal, it had been daubed with paint during other protests.

Though credited by many with ‘discovering’ America, Columbus has become an increasingly controversial figure in recent years, with the focus shifting to criticizing the historical figure for his treatment of Native Americans. For some, Christopher Columbus is a symbol of colonialism. Statues of the explorer, whose journeys were commissioned by the Spanish monarchy in the late 15th century, have been targeted by anti-imperialist and anti-colonial protesters in the US and Central and South America.

In June, protesters in Colombia, a country whose name derives from the explorer, toppled a statue of Columbus, which was dragged from its plinth with ropes and vandalised, in the coastal city of Barranquilla.

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