The statue of the Inca shining on top of the fountain in Cuzco’s Plaza, while pointing towards the mountains–some say the fortress temple of Sacsayhuamán others say to the big White Cross, has generated a controversy that is far larger than Cuzco and yet is very significant for understanding life in the once Inca capital.
For Inti Raymi of 2011 Cuzco was first perplexed when the fountain that stands in the middle of its Plaza de Armas was covered up and then surprised when the coverings were removed and a gold painted, fiberglass statue of the Inca appeared on top of it, as if rising from the bubbling water. During the festivities the faux stonework that surrounded the nineteenth century fountain served as a platform from which the costumed Inca could stand over the plaza by the side of the statue.
Almost immediately controversy ensued. The Minister of Culture, Dr. Juan Ossio chastised the mayor publicly for placing the statue without having previously obtained the requisite authorization from Dirección Regional de Cultura de Cusco and questioned the use of funds from COSITUC which raises money by selling the tourists tickets that allow for admission to the main sites in the city and nearby.
In addition, the statue led to polemics among the people of Cuzco along the lines of many prior positions. There are those, like the Mayor Luis Florez, who celebrate the statue as part of a “restoration” or Incanism, or the idea of an Inca identity for Cuzco and its people, something they see taken in the Spanish invasion and subsequent years.
This runs up against those who see value in colonial culture of Cuzco and its Spanish monuments which combined with the Inca to make the modern city. Though on Inca foundations, they argue, the current Plaza de Armas is a colonial monument which requires reference to colonial ideals of balance and a aesthetics in the placing of the fountain and in its relationship with the plaza and surrounding buildings.
There are those who argue that the statue is not authentic and should be removed in order to return the fountain to its original shape and form.
To this others respond that in its original incarnation the fountain carried a statue of a North American Indian warrior, bow and arrow in hand. It is claimed this statue was placed in error, since it should have gone elsewhere. But another position points to the North American who, in the early twentieth century was the rector of Cuzco’s University of San Antonio Abad, the UNSAAC. He evidently brought the statue from New York to place in Cuzco.
To this we might add the position of many academics that powerful people in Cuzco as well as powerful and popular interests do not pay attention to the work of historians, archeologists, and anthropologists about the nature of Cuzco, its society, culture, and history.
In other words, the appearance of an Inca on top of the fountain in the Plaza de Armas opened an enormous can of worms. We see local government struggling with the national government. UNESCO is even brought into the discussion since it declared the city of Cuzco a heritage site which would ban inappropriate change. And in the city we see interests arrayed against other interests.
The statue is the focus of battle, even if its seems so calm and monumental looking knowingly and peacefully into the distance.
In the last month the struggle has become even more intense with the filing of legal charges.
The Direccion Regional de Cultura del Cusco (The Regional Directorate for Culture of Cuzco) started the process to sanction Cuzco’s municipality for “breaking the norms of conservation and protection of the cultural patrimony of the nation.”
In addition, Justino Aya Ccopa, listed as a citizen, brought charges against Mayor Florez in the Tercer Fiscalía Provincial Penal, “for a crime against cultural patrimony from destroying or altering cultural goods. If found guilty, the mayor would be sentenced from two to six years of loss of liberty.”
Mayor Florez has also been accused of misusing the funds of COSITUC to the order of 98,400 S/ (about $38,000 US) for the making of a bronze statue, when the statue that was originally placed was of painted fiberglass. Now a bronze statue appears on the fountain, though questions about the proper spending of funds and the requisite consideration and authorizations for them have been raised.
Tourists will generally not notice the scandal and will only see the statue and the billboards now placed on either side of the fountain. The billboards justify the claim that the statue does not violate the historical integrity of the fountain since there was once a statue there.
What ever else, in the Inca statue is a strong claim from Mayor Florez and his followers that the city of Cuzco is an Inca city first and foremost. From the need to make such a strong claim we can perceive how threatened many people feel Cuzco’s Incan origin and identity are.
The fight is far from over.