A controversial statue of Christopher Columbus, built 20 years ago and intended commemorate the 500th anniversary of his arrival in 1492, might finally be erected—somewhere in Puerto Rico.
Created by Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, the 600-ton “Birth of a New World,” which depicts a colossal Columbus standing in a (relatively) small boat with three sails, was rejected by numerous American cities. A story at Telegraph.co.uk lists Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York—and, of course, Columbus, Ohio—as having said “no thanks.” The statue is twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty without her base, and has earned such unappealing nicknames as “Chris Kong” and “From Russia with Ugh.”
In most cases, the statue was rejected for being too ugly, although its sheer size was also problematic. Such was the case when Puerto Rico accepted the statue in 1998; plans to erect it in Catano, a seaside suburb of the capital San Juan, called for demolishing houses. There was also concern that it would block flight paths. The statue was put in storage in the western port city of Mayaguez, where it has remained ever since.
A flurry of reports out of Puerto Rico suggest that the statue might at last be erected, although where is still up for debate. First, legislator David Bonilla suggested putting it on the small uninhabited island of Desecheo. But an Associated Press story published days later cited Tsereteli’s assistant Emily Madoff, who said it would be installed in the town of Arecibo, and that the permits for doing so were nearly finalized. Then Jorge Santini, the mayor of San Juan, said he’d like to put it in the capital city, and suggested three potential sites. According to Madoff, welders from Russia have arrived in Mayaguez and have begun assembling the sculpture’s 2,750 pieces.
The Associated Press said that Bonilla, who vowed to keep pushing for the Desecho location, “envisions pictures, T-shirt sales and even helicopter rides linked to the statue.” Madoff commented that “[w]e’re thrilled that there’s so much excitement now about the statue.”
Nearly lost amid the debate over where to put the thing were the voices of protest that it will be erected at all. Twitter user Adonaiman wrote that “Giant Columbus statue in Puerto Rico is like giant George Bush statue in Iraq,” while user vgbnd wrote “A statue of Columbus in Puerto Rico? A celebration of slavery, slaughter and sickness? i don’t think so…..” The Aboriginal News Group website posted a petition titled “We the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean say NO to a giant statue of Columbus,” where a number of the more than 180 signatories have voiced their disgust.
“To erect a statue to honor Columbus is an insult to Indigenous people,” wrote a user from Massachusetts.