The president and one of the board members of the Caballeros deVargas have resigned amid infighting within the fraternal organization and an alleged threat by the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
At issue is whether the religious and cultural group should send a letter to Mayor Alan Webber and city councilors asking for the return of a controversial statue of conquistador Don Diego de Vargas to Cathedral Park or to the organization, which commissioned the artwork.
Webber’s unilateral decision last year to remove the statue from the downtown park for “safekeeping” ahead of planned protests has been a sore point for members of the Caballeros, some of whom consider the removal an attack on Spanish culture.
But how the organization should respond has sparked discord among its members.
“It has become blatantly apparent that I am not the person to lead this organization’s goals and priorities,” Ron Trujillo, a former city councilor and now former president of the Caballeros, wrote Wednesday in his letter of resignation. “One week there is agreement, the next week complete dissension depending on who is in attendance.”
The friction came to a head Tuesday during the group’s general membership meeting during discussion of the proposed letter to Webber and the City Council, Trujillo wrote.
“From the start, there was opposition to the letter as members began asking for points of order as to what can be voted on and so on,” Trujillo wrote, adding he wanted everyone to have the opportunity to be heard. “Unfortunately, the meeting got out of hand and bickering went back and forth between those [who supported] sending the letter to the mayor and those opposed.”
Trujillo, who became president of the organization in October, did not return a message seeking comment. But he wrote in the letter that the Rev. Timothy A. Martinez, the cathedral rector, jumped into the fray during the meeting. Martinez “made it very clear” that if the Caballeros sent the letter “during an election year,” the Catholic Church “would not tolerate this and ramification might result,” Trujillo wrote.
“The ramification the Church was threatening was our beloved La Conquistadora would be taken away from the Caballeros,” he wrote, referring to a Marian statue brought to Santa Fe from Spain in the 1620s that was later part of de Vargas’ expedition to resettle the city after the bloody Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
De Vargas believed the Spanish Madonna had answered his prayers to retake the city without bloodshed, giving birth to the Fiesta de Santa Fe to give thanks for her role in the reconquest. The Caballeros, who are dedicated to the memory of de Vargas, protect and care for the Marian statue, also known as Our Lady of Peace, which is kept in the cathedral.
“I will not go down in history as the president who lost La Conquistadora as that is the direction that the church will take if the Caballeros send the letter,” Trujillo wrote, adding he believes the letter should be sent.
Martinez was unavailable for comment Thursday, said Carlos Martinez, the cathedral’s pastoral associate of administration.
In addition to Trujillo, board member Gilbert Romero also resigned.
A 19-year member of the organization and a past president, Romero wrote in his resignation that the last three years have been a “horrible” loss for the Caballeros. He cited the removal of the de Vargas statue — “taken out like it was trash” — as well as the end of the Entrada, a decades-old pageant on the Santa Fe Plaza that some considered offensive and revisionist history.
“Members that support Webber … are [traitors] to the Caballeros,” Romero wrote.