The President of Peru’s Parting Gift? A Controversial Statue of Jesus

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Mariana Bazo / Reuters

Workers build a 37-meter high statue of 'Christ of the Pacific' on top of the Morro Solar Hill in Lima's Chorrillos district on June 16, 2011. The statue is meant to be completed on June 29.

From the country that brought you Machu Picchu comes “Christ of the Pacific”— a 120-foot statue of Jesus.

President Alan García, who leaves office on July 28, ordered the construction of the monument last May as “a gift of gratitude from the chief of state to the Peruvian people.”  Some might call that a vanity project. But García told Peruvian journalists that he contributed around $36,000 of his own money towards the statue not for personal gain but because it “blesses Peru and protects Lima.” According to the president, a “generous Brazilian businessman” coughed up another $1 million to complete the towering figure of Christ, which has a construction deadline of June 29.

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The statue may symbolize virtue, but it’s inspired plenty of mudslinging. Lima mayor Susana Villaran says that the president never asked her permission to build the statue in the city’s Chorrillos district, and that no studies were conducted to determine how it would impact the area. “I’m Catholic,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t have problems with the figure of Christ, but it would have been better to dedicate the resources to social investment.”

Others view the statue, a replica of Rio de Janeiro’s “Christ the Redeemer,” as derivative and lacking any creativity. “We want to be the Peruvian brand and we copy the symbol of Rio?” architect Augusto Ortiz de Zevallos recently said on Peruvian television. “It doesn’t have much logic.” For ultra-nationalist Peruvians, the statue wreaks of cultural imperialism and is yet another indicator of Brazil’s growing wealth and encroachment on other Latin American countries. Brazilian civil-engineering firm Odebrecht SA constructed the statue, and that follows a series of multi-million dollar investments it has made in Peru.

After hearing the mayor’s objections, Jorge Taunay, Brazil’s ambassador to Peru, called her “discourteous” and asked what harm a statue of Jesus with his outstretched arms could possibly do. “Christ will be very nice,” he said. “Several countries have one.” (via Los Angeles Times)

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William Lee Adams is a writer-reporter at TIME’s London bureau. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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