CORONADO, Costa Rica (Nov. 7)
Workers have begun returning a monument to Latin American Catholicism’s leading Zionist advocate to a prominent location in this town, almost a year after it was removed for restoration. The work on the monument of Father Benjamin Nunez, which was scheduled to finish by Nov. 13 but has been slowed by rains from recent hurricanes, ends months of debate over what to do with the statue to a key figure in recent Costa Rican history.
Nunez served as priest of this dairy town-cum-suburb near the capital of San Jose, in between stints as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United Nations and its ambassador to Israel.
He also was a founding member of the National Liberation Party, the country’s largest, and played a key role in getting Costa Rica in 1982 to become the first country to place its Israel embassy in Jerusalem.
The country’s main synagogue, the 2,500-member Orthodox Israeli-Zionist Center, donated the $20,000 monument in 1999, five years after Nunez died at 79, though none of the synagogue’s members are believed to live full time in town. A street in Jerusalem bears Nunez’s name, and dirt flown in from Jerusalem was used to bury him.
The monument was removed from its pedestal across the street from the church in November 2004. It languished for several months in a municipal warehouse while politicians wrangled over its future.
Citing fear of vandalism, Mayor Rolando Mendez had wanted to move the monument to the fenced-in gardens of the town church, where the priest is buried. But community activists, the Nunez family and members of the synagogue who selected the site in the main square balked at the idea.
The restoration work was paid for by the municipality and will include the addition of a small reflecting pool around the monument, which Mendez hopes will deter potential vandals.
Mendez denies politics have played a role in the controversy, but he is Coronado’s first mayor from the Social Christian Unity Party, the National Liberation Party’s main historic rival, and he hopes his party wins a majority in town council elections scheduled for February.