TEGUCIGALPA – An unusual nativity crèche on display in a Honduran shopping mall memorializes vivid scenes of gang violence, a police purge and the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi among other real life events.
Hundreds of people have begun filing past the small clay and plastic figures that adorn the sprawling creation measuring 100 square meters and built by a former Honduran foreign minister and architect, Fernando Martínez.
Nativity scenes celebrating the birth of Jesus are common during the Christmas season in Latin America, and often feature elaborate depictions of the Christ child, Mary and Joseph in a manger as the three kings visit bearing gifts.
But the giant display in Tegucigalpa’s Mal Multiplaza bears witness to a world in violent turmoil, including ripped-from-the-headlines scandals close to home and earthshaking dramas elsewhere.
“We were objective in our assessments, as each year the public is more demanding,” said Martínez when the work was inaugurated last week. “I always try to improve on the design with moral and Christian principles to remember the birth of our lord Jesus Christ.”
So under a sign labeled “Violence,” toy-like figures re-enact the wave of violent crime that has swept Honduras, which according to the United Nations has the world’s highest murder rate, in tiny urban scenes created from common building materials.
A steady stream of curious shoppers filed through the exhibit on a recent day, with parents holding their children up for a closer look at the startling displays which depict the brutality plaguing their communities.
One sign reads “Purge of the police,” alluding to a scandal that prompted Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to vow to remove “the bad apples” from the police force after evidence showed they were working hand in hand with organized crime.
It took the deaths of two students at the hands of the police October 22 to lead investigators to discover that entire police stations had been taken over by crime groups engaged in kidnapping, car thefts, drug trafficking and protection rackets.
On Nov. 25, the day the scene opened to the public, more than 30 members of the police force were suspended in what was seen as the first step of the purge.
Other domestic scenes also figure in Martínez’s work such as the scramble for power ahead of the country’s 2013 elections and the conversion of a military air base – used by the U.S. military to project force in the region – into a civilian airport.
This year’s killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. commandos in a raid in Pakistan and Gadhafi’s violent demise in Libya also are depicted in miniature.
Martínez, who served as foreign minister from 1998 to 1999, built his first nativity scene as a boy with his mother in 1950, and since 1985 has been creating large scale crèches on themes of the moment.