SANTA FE — When the city of Santa Fe removed the controversial statue of Diego de Vargas in June, officials said it would be put in a secret and secure location for its protection. But unbeknown to top city officials, that location turned out to be in the backyard of a Santa Fe-area business.
Ron Trujillo, a former city councilor and current chairman of the Caballeros de Vargas, said he was notified that the business hired to remove the statue still had it on its property.
“The city never told them where to take it,” Trujillo told the Journal, who declined to say where the statue has been stored.
The Santa Fe New Mexican first reported the statue was AWOL from city property.
Mayor Alan Webber had the statue removed from Cathedral Park, a few blocks from Santa Fe’s historic Plaza, during a summer of reckoning over issues of racial discrimination, which led to the removal of statues and monuments across the country.
A 152-year-old monument, viewed as a symbol of oppression of Native Americans, was toppled by demonstrators at an Indigenous Peoples Day rally in October.
De Vargas is a polarizing figure as the leader of the Spaniards’ resettlement of Santa Fe 12 years after they were driven out of the territory during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Online petitions had called for the statue’s removal before the mayor had it taken out of Cathedral Park just as statues of another controversial conquistador, Juan de Oñate, were being threatened by Native American protesters and their allies in Albuquerque and Alcalde.
However, it appears the statue never reached a secure city location and for the past eight months has remained on the property of the business the city hired to remove it.
Webber, who also declined to reveal the statue’s location, said former Parks Director John Muñoz had told him the statue was on city property and that he now believes he was misled. Muñoz resigned two weeks ago to take a job in Las Cruces.
“I was both very surprised and very upset,” he said of learning that the statue wasn’t in the city’s possession.
Trujillo and Webber told the Journal the statue is safe, although Trujillo said he believes it’s not “secure” in its current location.
A picture of the statue’s removal in June shows the truck belongs to Lamoreux Crane Services in Santa Fe. When asked if they had possession of the statue, a representative for the company — who would only identify herself as Joanne — referred the Journal to a city spokesperson.
“We’ve just kind of gotten involved in something we shouldn’t be involved in,” she said.
Webber said he, Trujillo and City Councilor Chris Rivera met Tuesday to discuss next steps for the statue.
“There are options that could involve a council vote,” Webber said.