Who was that mas­sive mus­ta­chioed Mex­i­can?

Los Angeles Times - - The World - Ken Ellingwood re­port­ing from mex­ico city ken.ellingwood@latimes.com Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mex­ico City Bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The floats danced with whimsy. The fire­works wowed. The light show rocked. But a week af­ter Mex­ico’s bi­cen­ten­nial bash, in­quir­ing minds have ob­sessed on an­other spec­ta­cle: Who was the re­ally tall guy built of steel and off-white plas­tic? And (since this is con­spir­acy-minded Mex­ico), is the govern­ment con­ceal­ing his real iden­tity?

The gi­ant’s name is El Coloso, or Colos­sus, a 60-foot-tall, square­jawed fig­ure as­sem­bled by cre­ators Jorge Var­gas and Juan Car­los Can­field for In­de­pen­dence Day fes­tiv­i­ties.

On the night of the main cel­e­bra­tion in Mex­ico City, El Coloso was pa­raded in sec­tions be­fore tens of thou­sands of rev­el­ers. At the end, he was lifted to his full, Paul Bun­yanesque stature in the main plaza, where he tow­ered over Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon’s big “Viva Mex­ico!” fi­nale.

Since then, peo­ple have kept talk­ing about the 8-ton fig­ure with the stern vis­age and a ro­bust mus­tache wor­thy of rocker Fred­die Mer­cury. Blog­gers and oth­ers have turned an idle ques­tion — who does it look like? — into an odd­ball mys­tery. No guess seems too wacky.

Many peo­ple spot a re­sem­blance to Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Oth­ers see Mex­i­can rev­o­lu­tion­ary Emil­iano Za­p­ata, who is on peo­ple’s minds in part be­cause this year also marks 100 years since the Mex­i­can Revo­lu­tion.

Was El Coloso mod­eled af­ter (mus­ta­chioed) for­mer Pres­i­dent Vi­cente Fox? Ranchera crooner Vi­cente Fer­nan­dez? Slain pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Luis Don­aldo Colo­sio?

Maybe it’s the ef­fect of the coun­try’s drug war, but some peo­ple in­sist he re­sem­bles Je­sus Malverde, pa­tron saint of nar­co­traf­fick­ing. Some­one sug­gested play­fully via Twit­ter that the statue was re­ally a Tro­jan horse — once in­side the se­cu­rity perime­ter of the plaza, drug-gang hit men would come pour­ing out.

As spec­u­la­tion took off, of­fi­cials at the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, which over­saw the fes­tiv­i­ties, had enough. On Sun­day, the agency is­sued a dis­claimer: El Coloso was no one — and ev­ery­one.

“El Coloso is a trib­ute to the hun­dreds of thou­sands of name­less Mex­i­cans, al­most all poor peas­ants, who took part in the in­de­pen­dence move­ment and wrote a cen­tral chap­ter in Mex­i­can his­tory,” the min­istry said, adding that the de­sign­ers drew on fa­cial fea­tures from all over. “El Coloso’s face … has no spe­cific iden­tity.”

But (since this is con­spir­a­cy­minded Mex­ico), the of­fi­cial de­nial seemed only to fuel the fun.

The Ex­cel­sior news­pa­per dug up an in­ter­view in which sculp­tor Can­field said there was in­deed a real-life model. It was Ben­jamin Ar­gumedo, a revo­lu­tion-era gen­eral whose check­ered his­tory in­cludes switch­ing sides to fight against the rev­o­lu­tion­ary he­roes and or­der­ing the killing of Chi­nese im­mi­grants in north­ern Mex­ico. Ar­gumedo ended up be­fore a fir­ing squad, ex­e­cuted as a traitor.

The de­sign­ers were drawn to Ar­gumedo’s lanky physique and a strong, ex­pres­sive face that showed “war and hunger and hard­ships,” Can­field said. “We took his anatomy, his face, his char­ac­ter; we tried to re­pro­duce it and in the end adapted it to the iden­tity we were look­ing for.” Case closed, then? Hardly. Op­po­si­tion politi­cians seized on the com­ments to crit­i­cize the govern­ment for choos­ing a model one a his­to­rian la­beled “pa­thetic.”

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Alonso Lu­jam­bio, fac­ing crit­i­cism over the cel­e­bra­tion’s price tag, dis­missed the dis­cus­sion as “use­less.”

Dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view Tues­day, Lu­jam­bio played down sim­i­lar­i­ties to Ar­gumedo but said that, in the end, peo­ple will see what they choose.

Amid the hub­bub, El Coloso has been nowhere to be seen. He was re­moved from the Zocalo soon af­ter the party to pro­tect him from the weather. Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials say they hope to find an indoor space big enough to let the gi­ant face his ea­ger pub­lic again.

Ger­ardo Gar­cia

EL COLOSO: A crowd watches as the top of the statue rolls by dur­ing the bi­cen­ten­nial pa­rade in Mex­ico City last week.

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