Two days after announcing a plan to transform a 700-pound Nazi sculpture of an eagle holding a swastika into a dove of peace, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou said the project was canceled after thousands they signed a petition calling for it to be abandoned in a museum instead.
Mr Lacalle Pou said on Sunday that in the hours since he presented the idea at a press conference on Friday an « overwhelming majority » had opposed the plan to recast the eagle, which was found on a sunken German warship in Uruguayan waters in 2006 .
« If you want to generate peace, the first thing you have to do is generate unity, and clearly this has not generated that, » he told reporters in Cerro Largo, Uruguay. Saying he still thought it was a good idea, he nonetheless acknowledged, « It’s a president’s job to listen and represent. »
The two-metre-tall eagle stood at the stern of a German warship sunk by her captain in the Plata River after being damaged in one of the first major battles of World War II.
The eagle has been controversial ever since it was recovered: The private salvage operation that found the bronze has said it has the right to sell the sculpture, while the German Foreign Ministry and Jewish groups have warned it shouldn’t go to private buyers seeking to glorify Nazism. The bronze remained in a Uruguayan Navy storage facility while legal battles over its ownership played out through the courts. The Uruguayan Supreme Court eventually gave custody of the sculpture to the national authorities.
The project to melt the eagle and transform it into a dove had been in the hands of a Uruguayan artist, Pablo Atchugarry, but after it was announced thousands signed a online petition requesting that the sculpture be kept in a museum. Felipe Artucio, the creator of the petition, wrote: « Remembering evil, keeping in mind the symbols that represent it, is a huge responsibility for society, both local and foreign ».
The day after the president’s initial announcement, Guido Manini Ríos, leader of the right-wing Cabildo Abierto party, which is in coalition with Lacalle Pou’s conservative National Party, spoke out against the idea of converting the sculpture and threatened to introduce a parliamentary bill to prevent the destruction of the eagle.
Mr Atchugarry, the artist, said he would continue working on a « symbol of peace » but concurred with the president’s decision to scrap the idea of using the Nazi eagle material.
« From discord a symbol of peace and unity cannot be born » Mr Atchugarry wrote on Facebook.