By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) -A man was shot on Thursday in New Mexico on the site where authorities planned to reinstall a statue of a Spanish conquistador who brutally colonized the U.S. state, a witness and police reported, adding a suspect was in custody.
The shooting took place around noon outside a civic building in Espanola after a scuffle between protesters and a counter protester wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, said Mateo Peixinho, an organizer at the rally celebrating a decision by authorities to postpone installation of the statue.
New Mexico resident Ryan Martinez, 23, was taken into custody as the suspected shooter, said Rio Arriba County sheriff’s office Major Lorenzo Aguilar.
A Hopi Native American man from Seattle, Washington, was shot, according to Peixinho.
The victim was in stable condition after being airlifted to University of New Mexico hospital, Albuquerque where he was in surgery to have a bullet removed from his chest, said Christina Castro, another organizer at the rally.
A similar shooting took place in 2020 when a man demonstrating against the statue of conquistador Juan de Onate in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was shot by a counter protester.
Rio Arriba county halted a Thursday ceremony to reinstall a statue of the 16th-century Spanish colonial ruler after protests over the return of the bronze figure removed three years ago during nationwide anti-racism demonstrations.
Peixinho said he spoke to Martinez, the alleged shooter, before the incident and he said the man was unhappy authorities had not gone ahead with the reinstallation.
Onate is known for the 1599 massacre of a Pueblo tribe, leading a group of Spanish settlers into what is now New Mexico.
He is celebrated by some locals for bringing Spanish culture and traditions to a county where most residents today have both Hispanic and indigenous roots.
“I don’t think anybody should stop us from doing what we’re doing,” Rio Arriba County Commission Chairman Alex Naranjo, who spearheaded the return of the statue, said after the shooting.
The wounded man was in New Mexico for a climate conference and traveled to Espanola to take part in the rally organized by the Red Nation Native rights group, Peixinho said.
Video of the incident showed a man pushing past protesters in front of the concrete pedestal where the statue was to be installed before brandishing a handgun, firing a single shot and running away.
(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Editing by Josie Kao and Lincoln Feast.)