By Tracy Wilkinson
4:06 PM PST, November 23, 2012
MEXICO CITY -- That big, hulking statue of the Caucasian strongman has got to go.
Such was the recommendation Friday of a special committee appointed to resolve one of the odder controversies to beset this capital. At issue: the city government’s decision to allow Azerbaijan to erect a monument to its late president, Heydar Aliyev, on the iconic Reforma Boulevard, prime real estate in the sprawling megalopolis.
The bronze and marble statue generated protests and a running debate in the media. Critics said a figure of Aliyev’s tarnished history did not deserve a star turn on Reforma, especially among a stretch of leafy parks where monuments have long honored the likes of Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.
The three-member committee apparently agreed and on Friday announced its recommendation that the Aliyev statue be removed. Another “more appropriate” space might be considered, the committee said.
Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, for whom the entire episode has been a major embarrassment, said he would study the recommendations. A leftist whose term ends in a few days, Ebrard inaugurated the monument over the summer with great fanfare, ignorant of, or unconcerned by, Aliyev’s past as a KGB chief and his corrupt regime’s poor record on human rights.
Azerbaijan paid as much as $10 million to erect the statue, clean up the section of park where it sits and make similar repairs at a second site downtown. Its ambassador, Ilgar Mukhtarov, was quoted in a Mexico City newspaper, La Razon (link in Spanish), threatening to break diplomatic relations with Mexico if the statue is removed. Muktarov also said Azerbaijan would cancel $4 billion in investment projects for Mexico.
“If Ebrard decides to remove the monument, we will cancel the projects, close the embassy, it would hurt the relationship between the two countries, and it would not be good for his image to be the person who prevented a $4-billion investment,” the ambassador was quoted as saying.
However, he later sounded a much more conciliatory note. Meeting with reporters at the Azerbaijan Embassy, Mukhtarov said his government was prepared to negotiate with the city and find a “friendly” solution to the dispute.
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