This past weekend, agents from Agencia Tributaria (the Spanish IRS) searched the safe deposit box of a man under investigation for fraud charges. The agents were not ready for what they found inside the box: a classic masterwork by one of history’s most famous artists.
“Cypress, sky and field” was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889, just a year before he would commit suicide as a penniless man suffering from serious mental illness.
The painting was taken by the Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands in the 1940s and was last seen on display at Kunsthistorisches Institut der Universität Wien (the University of Vienna’s art institute) in the mid-70s.
The owner of the safe deposit box, who was with the agents when they went through it, claimed that he was just storing the painting for an unidentified Spanish multi-millionaire who had brought it to the country in 2010. Spanish officials are still investigating.
The painting is similar to other landscapes Van Gogh did of the French countryside, which often included its cypress trees and wheat fields:
It’s no secret that Christopher Columbus was a liar, a bigot, and just an all around crappy person. He wasn’t the first European to “discover” America (Viking Lief Erikson founded a Norse village in Newfoundland almost 500 years earlier), and he also had quite the track record of totally screwing over and exploiting any natives he came in contact with.
For example, when he landed in the Bahamas, Columbus found that the islands were inhabited by the peaceful and friendly Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks tribes. In his diary, he describes these people as being very smart and kind, as well as saying,
“They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no.”
When Columbus’s ship wrecked on their shores, the natives spent hours laboring to save his crew and their cargo, without asking for anything in return. How did he repay them?
He proclaimed the island to be Spanish property and enslaved the locals to work in gold mines, mining gold which would then be sent back to Spain. Within two years, half of the native population (125,000 people) had died.
Columbus also supervised the sale of young native girls (usually around the ages of 9 or 10) into sexual slavery. Another excerpt from his diary:
“A hundred castellanoes [Spanish currency at the time] are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
For years, Native Americans have been protesting against the celebration of this vile man. The idea for an Indigenous People’s Day was first proposed 37 years ago by a Native Nations delegation during a meeting of the United Nations. It was proposed again by a coalition of 120 indigenous nations at a conference commemorating 500 years of Indian Resistance.
Minneapolis has been really trying to celebrate their native peoples in recent years. Just last year, their City Council approved a measure called “The Year of the Dakota: Remembering, Honoring and Truth Telling”, to bring attention to all of the contributions Native Americans have made to the city.
Just this past week, Minneapolis’s proposal to create Indigenous People’s Day on Columbus Day was unanimously and enthusiastically approved in front of a packed crowd in City Hall. The resolution creating the holiday explains,
“Indigenous People’s Day shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwa and other indigenous nations add to our city.”
Although this particular measure does not eliminate Columbus Day, it is possible that the old holiday will be removed from the city ordinances in future years. Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District had this to say:
“Now that we have established Indigenous People’s Day, every child — whether that child is native or whether that child is not — will learn the truth about where America really comes from. This is so important because it’s difficult to imagine, if you are from the mainstream experience, how it feels to sit in a classroom and be told there was darkness and then Columbus came and then there was light.”
Read the full article about the establishment of Indigenous People’s Day from the Minneapolis Post here.
Hunted for its horns, which are sold on the black market as aphrodisiacs in countries like China and Yemen, the last of these rhinos disappeared from Cameroon in west Africa in 2006.
This bird, native to Maui island in Hawaii, inhabited the southwestern slope of the Haleakala volcano on the island. It wasn’t discovered until the 1970s, and immediately its numbers began to decline.
By 1997 there were only 3 left in the wild, and they were officially declared extinct in 2004.
2. Zanzibar Leopard
The zanzibar leopard was a unique leopard species only found on the island of Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania in east Africa. As the island evolved during the 20th century, people began coming into contact with the leopards more and more.
Locals also believed that the leopards were kept by witches and actively sought to exterminate the cat. Conservation attempts in the 1990s were unsuccessful.
This species of wild goat lived in the Iberian peninsula until being hunted to extinction in 2000. Skin samples from the last pyrenean ibex were used to clone one in 2009, but it died from lung complications shortly afterwards.
5. Golden Toad
This boldly colored toad was found high in the mountains of Costa Rica. Pollution, habitat loss, and a fungal virus all contribute to its extinction in 1989.
Machu Pichu is a 15th-century Inca site located in the Andes Mountains in Southeast Peru. Click an image to enlarge.
Bonus picture: wild llama roam freely around the site, which led to this epic photo-bomb that I just had to share.
Most archaeologists believe Machu Pichu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti who ruled from 1438-1472.
It was built around 1450 but abandoned a century later when the Spanish invaded the region.
The combination of the Spanish invaders, as well as a number of epidemics of European diseases including influenze, typhus, diptheria, measles and multiple outbreak of smallpox led to the fall of the Inca Empire in the late 16th-century.
Last Wednesday (November 20th), Spain’s government announced a draft proposal of a bill that would penalize many accepted forms of peaceful protest with consequences from fines to prison sentences. Here’s a few of the more drastic measures that would become law if the bill passes:
Anyone organizing a protest through Facebook that is not “officially sanctioned” would get you a prison sentence of up to three years, or a fine of $45,000
Passive resistance at large gatherings would get you three years in prison
Any attempt to disrupt communications or public transport would now be labeled “sabotage” and could land you in prison for anywhere from one to five years
People who have followed Spanish society for the past few years will quickly see that the new proposed rules are all in direct response to protest events in the country over the past few years.
In addition, the proposed bill is also trying to criminalize any kind of protesting in front of public institutions, as well as the popular Latin American strategy of “escraches” (spontaneous protests where people target specific bankers or politicians in their place of work or residence to publicly humiliate them).
Read the full story, including details about the past protests which lead to each specific rule in the proposed bill, here.