16 Dec

[ ]  A bronze statue of Benito Juárez stands, on a granite base, with his left arm raised, pointing away in to the distance, at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue in Washington, District of Columbia. Virginia Avenue was chosen because of its proximity to the headquarters of the Organization of American States OAS located at Virginia Avenue & 18th Street, and to the Pan American Health Organization PAHO located at Virginia Avenue & 23rd Street.

The sculpture is owned and maintained by the National Park Service (NPS). This statue is a cast of the original statue standing in OaxacaMexico. The statue, cast in Rome, 1891, by the Nelli Foundry, was a gift from the people of Mexico in exchange for the gift President Lyndon B Johnson gave the Mexican people- a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Authorization for the statue, cast at Mexico City’s Fundidores Artisticos,  was given October 17, 1968. The work was overseen by R. Moreno.Juarez’s right hand rests on a book on a pedestal. The book is THE REFORMA. The base, designed in America, reads on its front  the granite inscription “A. CENCETFI   SCULTORE  ROME 1891.” The inscription on the other face is, English: “Respect for the rights of others is peace BENITO JUAREZ 1806-1872 The people of Mexico to the people of the United States of America” – Spanish: “El respeto al derecho ajeno es paz BENITO JUAREZ 1806 -1872 El pueblo de Mexico al pueblo de los Estados Unidos de America.” The statue by Enrique Alciati  is a part of the District’s STATUES OF THE LIBERATORS collection. The statue was sculpted by Luis Sosa Villasenor and Louis Ortiz Macedo Diciembre 1968 (December 1968).Benito Juarez is a former president of Mexico.


Benito Pablo Juárez García, born of peasant parents he described as “indios de la raza primitiva del país,”  “Indians of the original race of the country”, was a Mexican lawyer, a  Judge, then a politician serving as governor. Juarez was of Zapotec. Benito, orphaned at age 3 then raised by his grandparents, served five terms as President of Mexico: 1858–1861 as interim, then 1861–1865, 1865–1867, 1867–1871 and 1871–1872. Juarez was made Chief Justice in 1857, becoming interim president until proper elections were made. Juárez was properly elected president, March 1861, for another four-year term under the Constitution of 1857.


Juarez worked until age 12 as a shepherd and laborer in corn fields. At age 12, Juarez walked to the City. He wanted to go to school. He couldn’t even speak Spanish. Juarez became a domestic servant for Franciscan, Antonio Salanueva. Salanueva saw brightness in Juarez. Salanueva arranged for Juarez to attend Seminary. Years later, Juarez planned Mexico’s revolution. Juarez, objecting to the dictatorship of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, self exiled to New Orleans, LA. Santa Anna resigned in 1855. Juarez returned to his Mexico forming a provisional government inaugurating the LA period curtailingthe power of the Catholic Church and the military, to create a capitalist economy based on the model of the United States. Ley Juárez, Law of Juárez, said  all citizens were equal before the law. The privileges of the Catholic Church were restricted, abolishing the fueros special privileges of the clergy and the military; the Ley Lerdo (1856) ordered the sale of all church lands not used for specifically religious purposes. Congress drafted a federalist constitution in 1857 ending  special jurisdiction for the clergy, limiting the power of the church, placing the army under ultimate civilian control. Mexican citizens were given their first genuine bill of rights.


The Laws of La Reforma took all church property except for places of worship without compensation. Monasteries were suppressed.  Cemeteries nationalized. Civil marriage was instituted. Confiscated church property was parcelled off to the landless. In time, La Reforma’s land revolution failed. It had increased the number and wealth of large landholders. The condition of impoverished peasants got worse.


National Park Service repairs to the statue and its plaza began November 2011, almost two decades after the Smithsonian Institution’s SAVE OUTDOOR SCULPTURE! reported its conservation status as well maintained. Six years earlier, with concern for the statue and pedestrians, patch work was done to the statue’s base to mitigate slippage of the monuments base stones. One year earlier, the Oehrlein & Associates Architects provided a repair game plan to the National Park Service to repair the pedestal granite, the statue, lettering and waterproof the statue, guesstimating their work would be finished Spring 2012, coincidentally timed to America’s national celebration of Cinco De Mayo.


Despite accepted belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. Mexican Independence day is the most important patriotic holiday in Mexico. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated September 16.


America, on Cinco De Mayo, is celebrating the Mexican people victory over America’s ally, the French, The Day of the Battle of Puebla, El Dia de la Batalla de Pueblo. The French had occupied Mexico after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, the Mexican Civil War of 1858, and the 1860 Reform Wars. For the most part, Cinco de Mayo in Mexico is limited primarily to the State of  Puebla.


June 7, 2005, Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution calling for Presidents of the United States to issue a proclamation calling for Cinco de Mayo to be celebrated with appropriate ceremonies and activities. Twenty five years earlier, business entities, especially beer companies, hijacked the celebration, promoting its partying feature earning it the nickname in the Mexican community, Cinco de Drinko. Cinco De Mayo has been celebrated in California continuously since 1863, coming into vogue in 1940s America during the rise of the Chicano movement. 


Back in the 1860s, Mexican miners California, so overjoyed at the news of Mexico taking its nation back from France, fired off rifles, set off fireworks, sang patriotic songs and made impromptu speeches. The Mexican Treasury was almost bankrupt. July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juarez suspended all foreign debt payments for two years. France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz demanding reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated then withdrew. The Emperor of France, Napoleon III, chose to pursue the opportunity to establish a Latin empire in Mexico, a move benefiting France. Napoleon, looking to put an emperor in Mexico, ordered his generals to help the Confederates win, in their war with the United States. 4,000 Mexican soldiers took down an army of 8,000 French military undefeated for almost 50 years. 30,000 troops and a year later, France captured Mexico City. Maximilian I was installed as the ruler of Mexico. With the Civil War ended in 1865, the United States were able to deploy assistance to help the Mexicans get rid of the French.

President Andrew Johnson invoked the Monroe Doctrine giving diplomatic recognition to the Juárez government with the intent of supplying funding and weapons. Congress would not support Johnson. Legend goes President Johnson employed the “turnip truck doctrine” having the Army “lose” some supplies including rifles across the border from Mexico. General Philip Sheridan guesstimated about 30,000 muskets ‘fell’ off his wagon train. 


Maximilian I and his generals Miramon and Mejia were executed. And Mexico was given a place of honor in the Capitol of America, along with Canada, with their embassies placed diplomatically acknowledging their countries roles in protecting America from the North and from the South. Since the Battle of Puebla, no country in the Americas has been invaded by any other military force.

Historian Justo Sierra believes America’s future would have been very different if Mexico had not defeated the French at Puebla, May 5, 1862.  France would have continued on to help the South in the Civil War.


There is a secret about this sculpture few know. Inside, at the base back an urn is hidden, holding soil San Pablo Guelatao where Juárez was born. The inscription that reads: En este sitio fue depositada tierra de Guelatao, Oaxaca, lugar de origen del presidente Benito Juarez 7 de enero de 1969.” English: “In this site was laid soil from Guelatao, Oaxaca, birthplace of President Benito Juarez – 7 January 1969”. The church where Juarez was baptized is now known as the Church of Juarez. 

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