By Carla Samon Ros
Lima, Jun 29 (EFE).- Ten years ago Tuesday on a hilltop just south of this capital, then-President Alan Garcia inaugurated an acrylic replica of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue donated by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, but instead of nurturing souls, the colossus has become an enduring symbol of the corruption of Peru’s political class.
“Lord Jesus Christ, with your word bring to Peru joy, serenity, forgiveness, love and justice,” Garcia said as he presented the Christ of the Pacific monument on June 29, 2011.
Standing 37 m (121 ft) tall and built at a cost of more than $800,000, the statue is now as much a feature of the Lima skyline as Christ the Redeemer is in Lima, yet for many Peruvians the sight of what some call the “Christ of the Loot” is an emblem of official graft.
The project was controversial from the start.
Garcia first disclosed the plan when the statue was already en route to Peru and Lima’s then mayor, Susana Villaran, made it clear she was unhappy about being kept in the dark.
Some sectors saw the statue as more an imposition than a gift and Garcia’s intention to erect it near the hallowed ground of Morro Solar, home to a 19th-century battlefield and an unknown soldier monument, raised hackles.
In an attempt to appease critics, Garcia vowed that no public money would be spent and claimed to have contributed $30,000 from his own pocket.
Years later, Peruvians learned that rather than a gift, the statue was more in the nature of a sweetener to ensure Odebrecht’s lucrative public works contracts would remain on track, and that the firm had paid millions of dollars in bribes to Garcia and other politicians to secure those contracts.
In April 2019, after a failed bid to obtain political asylum in Uruguay, Garcia took his own life when police came to arrest him on corruption charges.
“For us, because of how it was developed, how it was delivered and how it’s maintained, it always represented a symbol of the corruption of Alan Garcia’s government and in general the corruption of the various governments linked closely to Odebrecht,” Christian Rojas, former leader of the grassroots group Es Momento (It’s Time), told Efe.
The organization launched a petition in 2019 seeking the removal of the statue.
“We have a donation from Odebrecht looking down on us every day. It’s a monument that tries to cleanse itself under the mantle of religiosity, but it harms,” Rojas said.
Patricia Ciriani, who lectures on the history of art and architecture at the National Engineering University, describes the statue as “kitsch” and a “national embarrassment.”
“There is no way a secular state should be paying for a religious statue,” she told Efe. “It’s clearly an imposition of political and religious power on Morro Solar.” EFE