A year and a half ago, on vacation in Washington, DC, I came across this statue of the great Mexican leader Benito Juarez, when I was trying to get to someplace else. It took me a while to find an appropriate time to post about it. But really, if not on Cinco de Mayo—the Mexican national holiday that Juarez, the country’s President, declared—when exactly can you write about it?
This 12-ft. bronze statue, located in the Foggy Bottom section of the U.S. capital, at Virginia Avenue, NW and New Hampshire Avenue, NW, is a copy of one located on a mountain in Oaxaca, Mexico, created by French-Italian sculptor Enrique Alciati in 1891. It was received by the U.S. from Mexico in 1969.
What little I knew of Juarez came from American textbooks that discussed how his Presidency was interrupted in the 1860s by Archduke Maximilian, the puppet of France's Napoleon III, and how the United States was annoyed by this violation of the Monroe Doctrine but unable to help because it was dealing with the Civil War. (A well-intentioned but dull Warner Brothers bio of the 1930s, Juarez, starring Paul Muni, did little to add to my knowledge.) In 1867, Maximilian was overthrown and Juarez restored to office.
But, in reading further about him, I’ve discovered that Juarez was one of the giants of his country. He certainly seems like the type of leader who would not enthrall the current administration in DC. Consider:
*Unlike the dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, he was not the kind of strongman so admired by Donald Trump;
*He was a Zapotec Indian of peasant birth—making him a minority among a larger group that Trump already sees as decidedly secondary in his scheme of things;
*He was a liberal who believed in the rule of law;
*One of his most famous quotes, inscribed in both Spanish and English on the base of this memorial, is diametrically opposed to Trump’s domestic and foreign policy: “Respect for the rights of others is peace.”