Three Spanish replicas of the Christopher Columbus flotilla that reached the New World 500 years ago sailed into their first U.S. mainland port Saturday, greeted by thousands of cheering spectators and more than 100 Indian protesters.
A peaceful demonstration organized by members of the Tiyospaya American Indian Student Organization displayed banners and signs blaming Columbus for the deaths of millions of native peoples throughout the Caribbean.
"How can you come into a country and establish a government without the approval of the majority of the people?" said Darryl Barking Dog, referring to Columbus' enslavement of tribes.
He and other protesters, many wearing native headdresses and carrying leather drums, marched near the port where the ships arrived.
The Indians were joined by dozens of Haitian-Americans, who carried banners criticizing the Bush administration's refusal to grant blanket political asylum to Haitians fleeing their military government.
"Don't celebrate 500 years of racism, oppression and stolen land," protester Betty Tsang urged passers-by.
The tall-masted replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria have visited Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The ships and their Spanish crews will visit 20 other U.S. cities after leaving Miami at the end of the month.
Columbus and his ships first landed at a location in the Bahamas yet-unidentified by Europeans Oct. 12, 1492 after a 33-day sail from the Canary Islands. He initially thought he had found Asia.
More than 1,000 small motorboats, sailboats, tugs and launches escorted the flotilla into port in Miami. Thousands of spectators stood under palm trees along the shore to cheer the arrival.
"Today we celebrate the coming together of the old and new _ the old and new worlds," said Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, who was among the dignitaries on hand to greet the ships.
Several crew members aboard the vessels, bedecked with red and yellow Spanish flags, said recent problems that plagued the flotilla had been resolved.
In Puerto Rico last month, about two dozen crew members, who had become accustomed to luxury hotel accommodations while in port, jumped ship in a labor dispute involving spartan lodgings in a school dormitory. They were replaced by Spanish sailors.
Spanish carpenters built the replicas with the same kinds of material used 500 years ago, including hand-forged nails.
The ships, known as "caravels," are open to visitors while in port. They have already visited ports in Spain, Portugal and France during the past two years.