Chile: Council Rejects Giant Pope Statue in Santiago

The proposed construction of a giant statue of the late Pope John Paul II that was to be placed in a square of the capital city Santiago, was rejected by Chile's National Monuments Council. The Council argued that the dimensions of “El Papa Bicentenario” (Bicentennial Pope) would violate and disrupt the historical harmony of the city square's landscape. The bronze Pope would have been approximately 13.5 meters (45 feet) high, and which some Chileans have dubbed the “Papasaurio” (Popeasaurus).

Besides the statue's hyperbolic height and its staggering cost of 200 million Chilean Pesos (approximately $400,000), the most controversial aspect is its intended location. Proposed by the private San Sebastián University (USS for its initials in Spanish), the statue was to be erected in central Santiago, opposite the University of Chile's law school. There are Chilean bloggers like Cristian Cabalin who comment that the university could spend the money on better things:

Si esta Universidad estaba tan preocupada por devolver el favor a la municipalidad de Recoleta podría destinar 200 millones de pesos o más para que mejoren las escuelas o para que se entreguen becas a los estudiantes de menores ingresos de la comuna. Ahí sí que existiría un efecto favorable para los vecinos, a quienes el municipio dice defender.

If this University was so concerned with giving back to the Recoleta municipality (the site of the university's new location), they could have earmarked 200 million pesos or more to improve the schools or to provide scholarships to area low-income students. Then, there would have been a positive result for the neighbors, who the municipality claims to stand for.

The Council further complained that the proximity of the statue on top of an underground car park was undignified, and criticized the lack of a public consultation for the project. Another issue that is drawing criticism is the fact that the statue's sculptor, Daniel Cordero is the brother of the USS’ director. Cordero has already finished the clay model, which is now stored a warehouse in Central Santiago.

According to The Clinic [es], there is opposition because “the lack of public contest was one of the principal critiques to the real and conventional giant statue.” In addition, the USS neglected to first seek permission from the Monuments’ Council, as is customary for such projects.

The discussion in the blogosphere quickly turned onto more basic questions concerning the relationship between laicism and religiosity in Chile’s education system and the country as a whole. Also discussed are the merits and shortcomings of John Paul II, who was a staunch anti-abortionist, one of the hot matters in the upcoming election.

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