Montevideo, Jun 18 (EFE).- The Uruguayan government has decided not to convert the bronze eagle removed from the sunken Nazi navy vessel Admiral Graf Spee into a dove after controversy erupted following last week’s announcement of the plan.
President Luis Lacalle Pou told reporters of the revised decision on Sunday, after last Friday stating at a news conference that his administration was intending to create “a symbol of peace and unity” by transforming the Nazi war eagle into a dove of peace.
“Over these past few hours there has been an overwhelming majority (of people) who do not share this decision. If one wants to create peace, the first thing one has to do is to create unity. Clearly, this (original decision) has not done that,” the president said.
He added that he continues to believe that converting the bronze eagle into a dove is “a good idea,” but he added that a president must “listen (to) and represent” the popular will, and he added that artist and sculptor Pablo Atchugarry – who had been tasked with the transformation project – had been informed that the plan would not be going forward.
The eagle was removed in 2006 from the 610-foot-long wreck of Nazi Germany’s “pocket battleship” in the Rio de la Plata estuary, where it had remained for decades after the vessel was heavily damaged by British warships in December 1939 in the Battle of the River Plate and then its commander, Hans Langsdorff, ordered the crew to scuttle it.
Between September to December 1939, the Nazi warship sank nine vessels totaling 50,089 tons before being attacked by three British cruisers – the Exeter, Ajax and Achilles – at the Battle of the River Plate on December 13.
Since it was salvaged, the eagle has been in the custody of the Uruguayan navy while a lawsuit was under way to determine who owned the symbol, although ultimately it was determined that the Uruguayan state was the owner.
At the Friday press conference, Lacalle Pou said that more than three years ago the idea had been broached to take “that symbol of violence and war … (and) transform (it) … into a symbol of peace and unity,” and as president he had proposed the project to Atchugarry, who “accepted immediately.”
The president said that the only condition he placed upon the artist was that he must do the transformative work on a pro bono basis.
When he had been asked where the newly reconfigured piece would be displayed, Lacalle Pou had said that this had not been definitively worked out yet but that one idea was to exhibit it in the city of Punta del Este.
The bronze eagle gripping a Nazi swastika in its talons and with its wings spread weighs more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) and measures two meters (6.5 feet) in height.
The Nazi warship was named after World War I Adm. Maximilian von Spee, the commander of Germany’s East Asia Squadron who fought the battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands, where he was killed in action. The vessel was laid down at the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, in October 1932 and commissioned in January 1936.
The 16,000-ton vessel was heavily armed with huge guns and torpedo tubes, and it could attain a top speed of 28 knots, faster than most warships in either the British or French navies at the outset of World War II.