Azerbaijan 'Dictator' Statue Angers Mexico City Residents

City government panel will review what to do with Heydar Aliyev statue.

OCt. 23, 2012— -- A statue in a park in Mexico City has angered some residents.

It depicts Heydar Aliyev, a former president of Azerbaijan, who is accused of jailing his opponents, crushing the local press and enriching himself thanks to ties with the Azeri Mafia.

So how did this bronze statue get placed along Mexico City's leafy Reforma Avenue, just a few blocks from statues of Ghandi and Martin Luther King?

It turns out that the embassy of Azerbaijan spent $5 million refurbishing two parks in Mexico's capital, through a scheme in which the Mexico City government looks for "partners" to develop the city's public spaces.

In exchange for its generous support, oil-rich Azerbaijan was allowed to place a statue of President Aliyev in one of the parks that it helped to spruce up, along with a plaque that describes him as a "shining example of infinite devotion to the homeland, and loyalty to the universal ideals of world peace."

Indignation with this statue recently sparked a protest of some 20 people who cared to learn something about the history of Azerbaijan.

Early in October, the BBC spoke to Andrés Lajous, a local journalist who wondered if the government of Mexico City had approved the statue and taken the money from Azerbaijan, because it thought that no one in Mexico would know about Aliyev's reputation.

"They wouldn't put up a statute of [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez even if he paid a lot of money, but with Azerbaijan it's so far away and we know so little about it," Lajous argued on the BBC.

But the statue is still standing despite the indignation of some Mexican intellectuals. On Monday however, the Mexico City government formed a committee that will come up with ideas on what to do with this controversial piece of art.

"We have formed a committee composed of well-known opinion leaders, who have enormous moral credibility, and will make recommendations on how [the city] can emerge from this conflict," Mexico City's Secretary for Urban Development Felipe Leal said in a radio interview.

The commission will include an international relations specialist, an expert in cultural projects and a journalist who specializes on culture.

It is expected to review arguments in favor of keeping the statue, as well as petitions to remove it from Mexico City's Reforma Avenue.

Aliyev ruled his country with a firm hand from 1993 until his death in 2003. He is accused of censoring media, crushing opposition and developing a cult of personality in the tiny nation of 9.2 million, where, according to Wikipedia, every city now has a street named after the former president.

Aliyev's son, Ilham took over the country in 2003 and has been accused by Human Rights Watch of imprisoning journalists, breaking up peaceful protests and rigging parliamentary elections.

In a recent interview with Mexico City's Excelsior newspaper, Azerbaijan's ambassador to Mexico said that reports about human rights abuses in his country are inaccurate, and suggested that political agitators from neighboring Armenia are attempting to tarnish Azerbaijan's reputation.

"The group of people who have protested [the statue] is very small," Ambassador Ilgar Mukhtarov told Excelsior. "They don't know who Heydar Aliyev is…I'm sure that with time they will find more information about him, they will know him more, and their opinions will change."