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Damage to statue stains Mexico City

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Los Angeles Times
Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 9:27 p.m.
 

MEXICO CITY — The 211-year-old equestrian statue of Spanish King Carlos IV, known to generations of Mexicans as El Caballito, is one of their nation's most famous and storied works of public art.

Today, it stands on a picturesque square in the capital, discolored and allegedly damaged by a careless restoration team — a casualty, officials say, of an act of monumental boneheadedness.

Last week, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History issued a report alleging that a botched restoration job ordered by the city government has resulted in “irreversible damage” to the historic bronze, which was cast before Napoleon declared himself emperor of France.

Experts claimed they found the culprit on scaffolding at the work site: a bucket containing a 60 percent nitric acid solution. The use of such stuff, they said, has been known for decades to be a bad choice for metal restoration work, and its application has caused new corrosion and discoloration, affecting more than half the surface of the three-story-tall El Caballito.

The institute has pledged to bring legal action against the contractor, Marina Monument Restoration. King Carlos' newly splotched face has appeared on the front pages of the major newspapers. And Mexicans, who tend to be as proud of their history and culture as they are wary of their government, have reacted with collective exasperation.

The scandal is proof, if any was needed, that art restorers are the field-goal kickers of the culture world — specialists whose work tends to go largely unnoticed until they shank a big one.

In this case, however, the owner of the restoration company, Arturo Javier Marina Othon, is pushing back. In a public statement, he said the stains were ancient, his methods were justified, and the story had more to do with a government too dysfunctional to care for its cultural heritage.

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