I have a new article on Slate:
Last August, a statue of Heydar Aliyev, who ruled Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003, was erected along Mexico City's grand Paseo de la Reforma, in a park renamed the “Mexico-Azerbaijan Friendship Park.” Around the same time, the Azerbaijani government built a second monument in a different park in memory of Azeri villagers killed by Armenian forces in 1992; the plaque in front of the statue refers to the massacre as a “genocide.” Azerbaijan had renovated both public spaces at a cost of about $5.4 million.
The inauguration of the Aliyev monument was attended by several top Mexican government officials, including the mayor. But the Mexican public, then engrossed in a presidential election campaign, paid little attention to a statue of a man who once led a country 8,000 miles away.
When the nouveau riche attempt to use their money to buy respect and prestige, it often backfires. Such was the case of the Azerbaijani government’s effort to honor its former president. Because once Mexico City residents became aware of the statue that had risen in their midst, they saw the effort for what it was: an authoritarian government clumsily trying to buy influence and whitewash the legacy of a dictator.