Moving of statue strains Mexican link with Azerbaijan
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Wednesday 23 January 2013
The heart of Mexico City contains statues of a number of political figures from beyond Central America, among them Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi.
Last summer, the city’s former mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, unveiled a new addition: the late President Heydar Aliyev, who ruled Azerbaijan following the break-up of the Soviet Union. A plaque below the statue describes Aliyev as “a great political leader, a statesman”.
What it doesn’t say, however, is that Aliyev presided over widespread human rights abuses and endemic corruption. Now, after months of lobbying by human rights activists, Mr Ebrard’s successor Miguel Angel Macera is having the statue moved to a less prominent location.
Aliyev ruled Azerbaijan from 1991, when the country gained independence, until his death in 2003; many Azeris consider him the father of the nation. His son Ilham, the current president, has expanded his father’s domestic cult of personality to elsewhere in the world, and statues of Aliyev Sr have been erected in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Egypt, Georgia, Romania and Serbia.
Yet he remained a stranger to most residents of Mexico City until his controversial effigy was unveiled in 2012, as the centrepiece of an Azeri-Mexican “friendship park” funded by the Azeri regime, which also paid to restore a nearby plaza. When he opened the park, Mr Ebrard described it as a “testament to the will of the two people to grow closer”.
The oil-rich ex-Soviet state is said to have spent $4bn (£2.5bn) in Mexico. The present Aliyev administration has threatened to cut any further investment if the statue is moved.
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