More than 500 people rushed the streets of Mexico City last week, calling on government officials to create stronger laws against sexual assault after two teenagers accused policemen of raping them.
Protests launched in the wake of these allegations have been dubbed “glitter protests” after activists dumped pink glitter on the Mexican capital’s police chief earlier in the week. Demonstrators have since claimed that city officials have failed to properly investigate the rape accusations.
On Friday night, activists expressed their anguish by vandalizing Mexico City’s iconic “Angel of Independence” monument with graffiti. According to the Associated Press, protesters covered the landmark’s base with phrases like “They don’t take care of us” and “rape state” in lime green, purple, and black spray paint. The evening soon tipped toward provocation and violence. A male reporter was knocked unconscious by an unidentified assailant halfway through a life broadcast while a female journalist from another outlet grappled with a group of women dressed in all-black on the air. Elsewhere, protesters clashed with policemen monitoring the situation.
Built in 1910 to mark the centennial of Mexico’s War of Independence, the monument on Reforma Avenue is a common meeting place for celebrations and protests in Mexico City. Soccer fans routinely flock to the public space to cheer for their teams’ victories and young girls dressed in their quinceañera gowns take photographs in front of the historic memorial for their 15th birthdays. Underneath the monument is a mausoleum housing some of the country’s most famous war heroes. Among the buried are Mexico’s first president Guadalupe Victoria and Leona Vicario, a woman who actively supported the rebel movement alongside her husband Andrés Quintana Roo, a prominent constitutionalist.
The Angel monument rises above a public circle located just one block away from the United States Embassy in the center of Mexico City. It is decorated with four bronze sculptures of women symbolizing law, war, justice, and peace. On the top of its decorative column stands the namesake angel clad in 24-carat gold. Representing Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory, she holds a laurel crown above a sculpture of the revolutionary leader Miguel Hidalgo.
Over the weekend, workers erected a wooden wall around the Angel and began power-washing and painting over the graffiti. The monument was already slated for repairs at some point in the future due to damages sustained from the September 2017 earthquake; now, those efforts will be fast-tracked after the vandalism.
The deputy director of artistic patrimony at the National Fine Arts Institute, Dolores Martínez, told the AP that officials would assess damage done to the Angel and other locales attacked by protesters throughout the city. She added that her organization “respects freedom of speech and offers support for actions to eradicate all forms of violence against women.” Martínez also said that restoration plans would show “solidarity” with rape victims and feminists.
Violence against women remains a serious problem in Mexico. According to a 2019 report issued by Human Rights Watch, Mexican laws “contradict international standards” when it comes to the severity of punishment for sexual offenses contingent upon the supposed chastity of the victim. The nonprofit reported that the country does “not adequately protect women and girls against domestic and sexual violence.”
In a statement on Friday, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum criticized protesters for trying to provoke authorities into using force, saying “that’s what they’re looking for” and that “violence is not fought with violence.” The first woman ever elected to lead the country’s capital, she also invited “those who legitimately fight for the defense of human rights and the eradication of violence to help generate a climate of peace.”
Activists have responded to Sheinbaum with calls for her resignation, claiming she values public property more than women’s safety. They also noted that her language describing the civil unrest mirrors phrases used to blame rape victims for their own assault.
Mexico City’s culture minister, José Alfonso Suárez del Real expressed his sadness over the vandalism of the monument over the weekend, saying it “belongs to the Mexican people, not to the state.”
Vandalism against national monuments has become a popular outlet of emotions for protesters around the world. Last year, Paris experienced a spate of destruction during the protracted Yellow Vest demonstrations, which have continued through 2019. In December, activists defaced the Arc de Triomphe, smashing one of the landmark’s sculptures representing Marianne, a symbol of the French Republic.
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