Plaza Benito Juarez on Avenida Las Americas

Walk down the history of countries at Avenida Las Americas

While visiting Avenida Las Américas, in Guatemala City there are some things one can’t help but notice: the spectacular monuments, squares, and sculptures; lush green and shadowy Ceiba and Jacaranda trees in manicured parks with not a leaf out-of-place; fountains and pools and huge plazas. Every Sunday from 10 AM to 2 PM, this avenue transforms itself into something that it is quite different from the rest of the city. It’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and getting through that tiny door.

Avenida Las Américas is a primary artery of Guatemala City. Located in the capital, it runs through some of the most important areas: Zone 13, Zone 14, and near the international airport. It is one of the most gorgeous streets in the city, adorned with beautiful monuments and squares, topped with amazing sculptures. Every week on Sunday, one side of Avenida Las Américas is cordoned off. No vehicles are permitted and the entire street is manned by the Municipal Transport Police (PMT in Spanish), who control traffic and maintain regular check points. During this time, the stretch is dotted with ice cream trucks, horseback riders, horse carts and goat carts, vendors selling snacks, fresh fruit and balloons. For the tourist, Avenida Las Américas can be a fun and safe place to get a taste of city life. For people who live in the capital, this avenue is an important part of their lives.

Grazialla, a Brazilian who has been in the country for almost 10 months, says, “Here on Avenida Las Américas, it’s safe. You can always see a police officer just a shout away.” Even though she has a membership to a local gym, she loves running on the street and every Sunday she gets the opportunity on Avenida Las Américas. Another runner, Banceballos, says, “The fact that I know I won’t be hit by a speeding vehicle is something so soothing that I make sure I come here every Sunday.”

But, it’s not just the health conscious who throng to this place. “I’m divorced and Sunday is the only day I can spend some quality time with my six-year-old daughter. The parks here are safe and there is so much to do. I run around with her, ride a horse and she loves the swings. We just walk holding hands and when we get tired, we sit under a tree,” says a Guatemalan father with emotion, looking at his daughter resting her head on his shoulder. Down the avenue many families, are happily picnicking, eating sandwiches and drinking rosa de jamaica sitting under shady trees, kids are playing, running, shouting and laughing. André (16) and Guliena (14) live in Mixco, ten kilometers away from the city. But they and their gang of cousins love to visit Avenida Las Americas on the weekend to play baseball and football. “We love to play here,” they say, interrupting each other to answer my questions. Although they hate that I’m keeping them from their game, they are eager to speak to me. “It’s shady here with all the trees, and there is grass so even if I push her, I know she won’t get hurt,” says André. Guliena likes to come here because she can interact with her whole extended family. Licking her ice cream, she adds, “For as long as I can remember, this is what we do on Sundays, come to Las Américas.”

Apart from families, there are countless people taking their dogs for walks. In fact, there is a special swimming pool for the dogs, where they all jump in and play, retrieving toys and cheerfully barking at each other in their bow-wow language.

Quite a few skateboarders come to take advantage of the smooth pavement of Las Américas. Alejandro and Omar have been skateboarding for almost a year. They prefer this avenida, as this is the longest stretch where they can skateboard uninhibited. “There are other places to skateboard in Guatemala City, in Zone 2 and Zone 7, but this is our favorite spot because it’s safe and we can start right at ten in the morning and go on for four hours,” says Alejandro. Omar observes, “It’s not just us. A group of around 200 skaters visit Avenida Las Américas every Sunday.”
There is another group of daredevils on Las Américas every Sunday called Team Skull. This group of young stunt-bikers go up and down a particular stretch of street where it’s best for tricks and jumps. Avenida Las Américas is perfect for displaying their skills, and every Sunday they visit and make the most of it. Hungry and tired from four hours of flashy bicycle stunts, they bid me goodbye and head out for some tacos. That is another positive thing about being here on Sunday: once the traffic resumes at 2 PM, people leave the street for the countless restaurants, bars and eateries that adorn Avenida Las Américas, making for another lively scene.

But strangely enough, and unfortunately, despite all the time spent here, none of the people I spoke with managed to tell me more than the obvious about the spectacular structures on Avenida Las Américas. Besides the fact that each plaza along the street is dedicated to a different country from South, Central or North America, there is a rich history behind each one. Architect Eduardo Escobar, a faculty member of the Architecture Department at the Universidad Del Istmo, speaks of how, after the Spanish conquest, one can see a pervasive, overall influence of Spanish architecture in the country. Having been a part of the construction of the Plaza República de Chile, he opines that Guatemala has inherited from the Spaniards a legacy of “immortalizing our heroes and rulers.” Avenida Las Américas is a living testament to this fact.
The end of Las Américas is as grand as the beginning. Now called the Plaza Eucarística, it was first called the Monument of Central

America and is the oldest on the boulevard, dating from 1951. It has an impressive statue of Pope John Paul II. The first National Eucharistic Congress of Guatemala was held here from the 18th to 23rd of April, 1951. The equestrian statue of liberator Simón Bolívar has the name of the countries Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Panama inscribed on it.
The tallest monument on Avenida Las Américas is dedicated to the liberator of Chile, Peru and Argentina, General José de San Martín in the Plaza República de Argentina. A very interesting, subtle and often unnoticed detail about this plaza is that, behind the statue, the top of the monument has two hollow stripes. If looked at from a certain angle with the sky in the background, it transforms into the Argentinean flag and emblem.

A LITTLE MORE HISTORY

Avenida Las Américas is a 2,400 meter-long, straight street. On January 2nd 1951, the Diario de Centroamérica newspaper published the preliminary ideas and plans of the project. A system of large and small plazas, round spaces, and small parks with children’s areas was envisioned. At the time, the mayor of Guatemala City was engineer Martín Prado Vélez. The names of the plazas were based on the premise of representing each country of the continent, although, some countries’ plazas are still missing or under construction.
According to the Director of the Museo Nacional De Historia, Lic. Miguel Álvarez Arévalo, Avenida Las Américas is actually an extension of Avenida de La Reforma which dates back to late 1890s. Avenida Las Américas, however, is fairly new and was conceived of around 1950. The decision as to what would characterize a particular plaza was left to the country being represented. The engineers and masons who constructed the plazas were primarily Guatemalans, but for a few plazas, someone from the country being honored came to oversee the construction. Some of the sculptures were also imported from their respective countries; such is the case in the Plaza República de Nicaragua and the Plaza República de Argentina.

The Plazas

Obelisco is one of the grandest plazas, with lots of places to sit around the fountains, which keep the air cool. This Plaza is dedicated to the Founding Fathers of Guatemala’s independence.
The equestrian statue of liberator Simón Bolívar has the name of the countries Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Panama inscribed on it.
The tallest monument on Avenida Las Américas is dedicated to the liberator of Chile, Peru and Argentina, General José de San Martín in the Plaza República de Argentina. A very interesting, subtle and often unnoticed detail about this plaza is that, behind the statue, the top of the monument has two hollow stripes. If looked at from a certain angle with the sky in the background, it transforms into the Argentinean flag and emblem.
Plaza Christopher Columbus, undoubtedly the most spectacular and grandest of all the monuments on Las Américas, has an equally interesting history. The monument, which is the oldest of all the monuments of the avenida, was created in 1894. It was located at three different places before arriving at Avenida Las Américas: first at the Central Plaza, then in Morazán Park, followed by a stint in the town of Jocotenango. The various elements of the magnificent sculpture symbolize the following: the known world before the discovery of the Americas, science, courage, and the quetzal which represents Guatemala.

The end of Las Américas is as grand as the beginning. Now called the Plaza Eucarística, it was first called the Monument of Central America and is the oldest on the boulevard, dating from 1951. It has an impressive statue of Pope John Paul II. The first National Eucharistic Congress of Guatemala was held here from the 18th to 23rd of April, 1951.

Plaza República de Costa Ricahas a bronze sculpture of Dr. Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia, president of Costa Rica from 1940 to 1944. Seven poles and a rectangular ornament work together as a frame for the bust on which is inscribed: “Peace, Education, Social Justice – Solid Pillars of Costa Rican Democracy.” Seven poles which are geometrically styled also adorn the plaza.
Plaza República de Chile has a coat of arms with a placard below stating, “For the sons of Guatemala, for the Independence of Chile.”
Plaza República de Colombia includes a bust of General Francisco De Paula Santander, which proclaims him “El hombre de la Ley” (“Man of the Law”). He was the first President of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada which included modern-day Colombia.
Plaza República de Honduras has a bronze bust of José Cecilio Del Valle. Born in Honduras, he was called “Valle the Wise” for his high intellectual standards as well as “The Friend Of The Nation.” He wrote The Act of Political Independence.
Plaza México has a life-size sculpture of Benito Juárez, five-time president and the first indigenous person ever to be president of Mexico.  His famous quotation continues to be well-remembered in Mexico: “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz,” meaning “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.” This quotation is inscribed on the coat of arms of the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Plaza República de El Salvador, a plaza honoring another country that shares a border with Guatemala, has a bust of José María Delgado in bronze. He was the President of El Salvador from 1821 to 1823.
Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme, the Chilean independence leader, graces the plaza where the names of the countries Chile, Argentina and Peru are inscribed.
The Plaza República de Nicaraguais dedicated to Rubén Darío, a well-known writer and poet. This plaza has three very large geometrical figures: a sphere, a pyramid and a square arch. The plaza also has several well-known verses by the poet engraved on bronze plates.
Plaza República Dominicana features Juan Pablo Duarte, one of the Founding Fathers of the Dominican Republic.
Plaza República del Perú showcases former President Ramón Castilla, the Grand Marshal of Peru, wearing a military uniform and with medals on his chest.
Plaza República del Uruguay has the bust of José Gervasio Artigas, the National Hero of Uruguay, with the word “Artigas” in golden block letters.
Plaza República del Ecuador features a bronze sculpture of Eugenio Espejo, a medical pioneer, writer and lawyer of mestizo origin in colonial Ecuador. The plaza is framed by an asymmetrical mural structure.
Plaza of Journalist Clemente Marroquín Rojas has a modern-style structure presenting a geometric design related to the profession, entitled “Paladín de la Libertad de Prensa” (“Champion of Freedom of the Press”). This plaza is a dedication to the immense contributions to the literary and journalistic worlds that this lawyer, journalist, historian, novelist and politician made.
After Plaza República del Perú there is an unnamed plaza. The last plaza is under construction.

[This article was originally published in the bilingual magazine Que Pasa with the title ‘A taste of city life’. Click here to read it on the magazine’s website.]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: