An ongoing dispute over the removal of a statue of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas from a downtown park three months ago spilled into the patio of a Mexican restaurant in Burro Alley during Tuesday’s lunch hour.

Mayor Alan Webber got into a heated argument with Virgil Vigil, president of Union Protectiva de Santa Fe, which bills itself as the city’s oldest Spanish cultural organization, over the mayor’s June decision to remove the statue ahead of a planned protest. The mayor has said he ordered the removal of the statue for safekeeping — a decision that has sparked backlash among some local Hispanics who consider the move an attack on their Spanish roots.

Since then, Union Protectiva de Santa Fe has called for the return of the statue to Cathedral Park next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

In a statement obtained by The New Mexican, Vigil wrote the mayor became angered when Vigil “indicated that the feelings are that he [Webber] does not care for our history and culture.”

“He immediately went into a rage,” Vigil wrote, referring to Webber. “He pointed and kept pointing at me and said that I do not know what his feelings are, that I do not know.”

In a statement late Wednesday, the mayor said Vigil called him out on the street and “quickly raised his voice in anger.” Webber said Vigil accused him of “hating Hispanics” and “hating Hispanic culture.”

“I told him in no uncertain terms that, in attacking me personally, he had crossed a line,” the mayor wrote.

“We can and should have differences of opinion in our city on issues that are important to all of us, but we have to maintain mutual respect,” Webber added. “Otherwise we can’t find common ground.”

In an interview, Vigil, 66, called the mayor’s actions unprofessional and “a little threatening.”

“It was a nice conversation up until I told him that the feelings are that you don’t like our culture, our Hispanic culture, and don’t support our Hispanic culture,” said Vigil, a retired Army colonel who served 30 years in the military.

“He became very angry, very upset, and he started pointing his finger at me and kept on pointing his finger at me over and over again and told me that I don’t know him and that I don’t know what his feelings are,” he said.

Vigil said he was surprised by Webber’s reaction.

“He’s supposed … to be cool, calm and collective,” Vigil said. “He’s the mayor. He is … the highest position in the city, and for him to blow his head gasket, so to speak, for him to lose control, lose his temper, was very telling. It touched him. It touched him in a negative way that he didn’t like, and he wanted me to know that he didn’t appreciate that, and that’s why he kept on pointing his finger at me.”

Vigil said he “retaliated.”

“I pointed back at him — and he didn’t like that either — and said, ‘You know, your actions express your feelings,’ ” he said.

Richard Barela, who is Union Protectiva’s vice president and witnessed the exchange, confirmed that Webber became “upset” and pointed his finger at Vigil while talking to him in a loud voice.

“He says, ‘Don’t you tell me what I feel! Don’t you tell me what I feel!’ ” Barela recalled, adding that the mayor “got a little heated.”

“Virgil told him, ‘Well, it’s not what you feel, it’s your actions. It’s your actions. You’re saying something and then you act another way.’ And then the mayor, oh God,” he said, laughing.

In his statement, Webber said Barela “spoke calmly.”

“I offered [Barela] a follow up meeting so we could have a respectful conversation. He gave me his business card and I emailed him as soon as I got back to my office,” Webber wrote.

Vigil said he wrote about his run-in with the mayor after lunch so he wouldn’t forget details of the confrontation.

According to Vigil’s statement, which he called a “memorandum for record,” he and Barela were sitting outside for lunch when the mayor happened to walk by.

“I called out his name and he came to our location. I introduced myself and Richard and he indicated he knew,” Vigil wrote.

Vigil said he asked the mayor when he would appoint members to his proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Webber said in June would be formed to evaluate every statue and monument in the city and help determine their fate — continuing a process started by his predecessor, former Mayor Javier Gonzales.

Webber “indicated it is difficult because he needed funding to appoint such a committee. That he would appoint a director who had to be paid for his position,” Vigil wrote. “I indicated no one [needed to] be paid. It could all be done on a voluntary basis.”

Vigil then told the mayor that removing the de Vargas statue was “not right.”

“He said he did so because he had heard a protest was going to be conducted and he did so to protect the statue and the people because guns would be taken [by] people to the event,” he wrote.

Webber did not address Vigil’s assertions in his statement.

Vigil told Webber he was unaware of a planned protest but that Webber, “as the top city enforcer,” could have directed the police department to be present at a protest “to protect all.”

When Vigil asserted Indigenous activists with the Red Nation and Three Sisters Collective groups must have informed him of a planned protest, Webber denied talking to either organization, according to Vigil’s statement.

“Richard [Barela] then said, ‘Then how did you appear with them in the Plaza in support of the Red Nation and Three Sisters the following day?’ He did not respond,” Vigil wrote.

Barela also asked Webber why he didn’t attend a rosary Saturday morning in honor of de Vargas in Cathedral Park.

“I was at the Mass. Were you?” Webber reportedly asked Barela, referring to a ceremony held Friday known as the Prégon de la Fiesta, where Webber read a proclamation issued in 1712 when the City Council established the Fiesta de Santa Fe.

“Richard replied he, too, was at the Mass and he thought it was hypocritical for him to be reading the proclamation declaring a peaceful resettlement and being the one who ordered the removal of de Vargas,” Vigil wrote.

Vigil said he then expressed to the mayor that it was “not right that the Natives continually say that the Spanish committed genocide.”

“I told him in times of battle, all sides lose people,” he wrote. “I asked him if he knew that the Natives tied 21 Franciscan priests to horses and dragged them on the streets until they died. That the Natives killed over 400 women and children during the [Pueblo Revolt] and that we do not scream genocide as some Natives do.”

That’s when things got even more heated.

After the finger-pointing, Webber told Barela he would talk to him in a Zoom meeting, and they exchanged contact information.

“We [wished] each other a good day and he left,” Vigil wrote at the conclusion of his statement.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter

@danieljchacon.

(34) comments

Amanda Apodaca

Thank you Mr. Vigil, you hit the nail right on the head! Mayor Webber, as he said actions speak louder than words and we hear you loud and clear. Please resign before you further damage our beautiful city. You're not welcome since your only objective is to white wash our traditions/culture and ultimately our city.

Bill Flesner

The beautiful mix of cultures that created Santa Fe is an example of the way community should work. Why in the world are we trying to destroy that? One word -- power. What a shame.

Bill Nibchuck

If we just rewrite history and cancel all the things we presume as bad, then we'll all be happy, right?

Di Martin

Rewrite history!? Isn't that what they're trying to do to the Spanish history here in New Mexico!!!

Joe Brownrigg

We have FOUR major ethnic groups here in Santa Fe (Original, Hispanic, White, Mexican), not to mention a wide array of political views. We have to learn to talk WITH each other, not AT each other. Until then, it will always be a case of "he hit me back first."

Richard Reinders

I disagree this particular issue is between Spanish and Pueblo people who it seems were able to make their cultures work together for 400 years without a bunch of white nosey do gooders trying to stir the pot. I am as white as they get, first generation European and I know better then get between these two cultures , Webber did this for progressive reasons to try and homogenize Santa Fe and make it more like Portland and thats is where he made his biggest mistake. All groups should have a voice moving forward on should we allow another Mall or changing the speed limit, Trump or Harris oh I mean Biden but what happened with De Vargas is strictly between the Spanish and the Pueblos.

Di Martin

Thank you for that! You hit the nail on the head! Natives & Spanish have gotten along for decades! Whites are pitting the Natives against the Spanish for their own selfish gain! The Spanish are not the ones who took the Native's land away with broken treaties and put them on reservations! Spanish weren't the ones who death-marched the Natives 600 miles across New Mexico, losing thousands of lives along the way! The White people did that back then, talk about genocide! But is that ever mentioned?!!

Mark Ortiz

Oh my Lord! Hide the children and lock the doors. Two men raised their voices and pointed at each other. I do declare, this is such uncivilized behavior from such evolved cultures. What will be next, hangings in public?

HRH Prince Michael Jauregui

Sarcasm noted, Mr. Ortiz. Besides, two gentlemen having a heated conversation is often-times neccessary.

Anyway, I say more statues of World-changers. I hereby nominate the last man to walk on the moon, New Mexican Harrison "Jack" Schmitt. !Viva Schmitt!

Randy Burlingame

The Native Americans had everything figured out. Then! The Europeans enslaved them. #columbus

Nancy Murata

[beam][beam][beam]

Barry Rabkin

Put the De Vargas Statue back ....

Robert Bartlett

Yup, it is beautiful.

Greg Mello

This is an important article, IMO, for two reasons: first, Mr. Vigil was quite right to emphasize that actions are what count in politics, not what a person or especially an elected official "feels." We now have about two generations who want to be judged on what they themselves think they intend or feel, rather than what they actually do. This opens a truly vast space for hypocrisy, propaganda, and malfeasance. Second, it seems to many of us that what Mr. Webber represents and truly cares about is money. He is a typical neoliberal, in thrall to corporate interests. This is normal in his Party, as it is in the other major Party. The idea of creating a second "center" of Santa Fe at the Midtown campus reflects this. What values would this new "center" embody? None, basically, as it would be sculpted and constrained by the need for developer profit. Santa Fe was named for a man who rejected materialism in favor of spiritual values. TThe survival of traditions based on something besides pure mammon has lasted longer in Santa Fe than in most places. The traditions of culture -- all cultures -- and religions are the refuges of human values in Santa Fe. They have been under assault by organized greed more or less forever, as they are elsewhere. "All that is solid melts into air" where capital is worshiped and given sway. Webber is running the City more like a CEO than a mayor. Some of us don't understand why or how he gets away with it.

Khal Spencer

Amen, Greg.

Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup] Thank you.

Khal Spencer

Greg, we bought into the Fanta Se Experience six years ago, moving here from Los Alamos and buying a 1250 sq. foot Casa Solana house. Small, cozy, and nice. Easier to maintain than the old Bombtowne Estate.

Since then I've seen several of these little homes bought, gutted, expanded, and made into Mini McMansions. Then flipped for more than twice the price of ours. Get out into the more rural areas and the County and you are in the millions of bucks.

I don't know if the proposed development of the Midtown Campus will make this a more livable community or provide the kinds of jobs so folks can afford to live here. As long as some folks have the checkbook to turn 330k homes into 700k homes and dominate the market, I kinda doubt it.

But....but...yeah. Its all about statues. Statues.

Khal Spencer

Here is my solution. Take down every statue and memorial in the country. Put up one huge statue, a giant sphincter. On the support for the sphincter will be written, in larger than life block letters, "WE HAVE ALL BEEN A-HOLES AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER ON THIS CELESTIAL BUS. GET OVER IT."

Khal Spencer

You gotta love it. People living in pedestrian tunnels and overcrowded homeless shelters and the biggest issue in town is fighting over statues. I'm sure no statue went hungry last night. Shame on all of us for making a bleeping set of statues a big issue. Leave the statues alone and deal with real problems, not hyped up centuries-old grievances.

David Cartwright

I wanted to write a comment, but I think I will just second Khal Spencer's two comments. I think that most people have similar sentiments and just don't want to say anything for fear of being ostrasized.

Khal Spencer

Thanks, David. I am an introvert by nature so being ostracized is a fringe benefit.

Alan Courtney

This is nothing. Just wait until the Confederate monument is removed from the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Then things will get hot.

Kathy Fish

This doesn't make sense to me. Because the Civil War trumps hundreds of years of Spanish rape and pillage? Because "Confederates" are a larger demographic here in town than natives? Because white supremacy reigns in NM? Maybe flesh out your claims in a bit more depth if you're going to attempt provocation.

Stefanie Beninato

The marker to the confederate soldiers graves--not a memorial--was put there to end the dispute betw TX and NM over who got the bodies. Get over it--the confederate marker is just that pointing out the anomaly of having confederate soldiers in a federal cemetery.

Stefanie Beninato

Kathy I am not sure whom you are addressing. The confederate marker on the grave (WHOOO now that is elevating these soldiers)--is normal for graves. I bet you either didn't know it was there and/or have never gone to see this 1 ft by 1 ft marker. The city apologized for the use of the word "rebel" in 1999 when it put the plaque excuse our language it is historical in front of that side of the obelisk. Now in the 21C, being a rebel who flies the Confederate flag is not seen as supporting states rights (except for those who hold that view) but more of a commitment to white supremacy....We need to acknowledge that white supremacy is a huge problem in the US.

Doug Nava

Muchisimas Mr Vigil!! Mayor Webber is a hypocrite. As I stood there in Pregon Mass he read that proclamation with such passion and The Name Don Diego Devargas also and even worse in his name helped to proclaim the beginning of our Fiesta de Santa Fe. He had no business being there especially after standing with the Red Nation and three sisters collective on the plaza. Mayor Webber is playing with the emotions of both cultures pretending to care about each sides passion for thier ancestors, culture and traditions. But once again having no problem show boating in front on those at Pregon Mass pretending, and again even worse on the altar of the St Francis Cathedral.

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

Amen Doug! I felt such hurt and anger as he smugly read the Proclamation at our Pregon de Las Fiestas Mass Friday morning. I could only stare at the cross and pray for intercession to Our Lady La Conquistadora to stop this assault on our faith, our culture and our history!

Richard Reinders

Removing the statue with the excuse that there was a threat is like closing all banks because they may get robbed. You deal with these threats with the police and enforce the law. The fact Webber acted alone with out the council says something completely different. Webbers return of De Vargas to the cathedral park and protect it would start to bring truth to his statements, other wise his real intent is to dishonor the Spanish people of New Mexico.

Samuel Herrera

Only in New Mexico. I love it. I hope Weber replaces his blown head gasket.

Kathy Fish

Only in NM? Um, have you seen the way Donald Trump reacts to the tiniest thing? Sorry, but this is happening all over the country - oversimplifications like yours are harmful, reductive, and ultimately inaccurate.

Lee DiFiore

Was the president at a Mexican restaurant in Burro Alley on Tuesday? If not, what does he have to do with this story?

Molly Mix

It’s not an oversimplification—New Mexico is home to so many people of various backgrounds/ethnicities/religions and all care passionately about their roots and cultural traditions. That’s what makes this place so great! I can laugh out loud at “only in New Mexico” because that’s a fair statement and is meant to be taken lightly (And has nothing to do with our president!). So lighten up! 😃

Kathy Fish

Webber's an outsider, with less than four years in this city. Saying he "cares passionately" about any local roots and cultural traditions just isn't accurate. It's so great that you find petty male fighting and bickering something to feel lighthearted about, but this type of squabbling represents a precedent that's being set from the top down - one with far-reaching ramifications we should all feel concerned about.

Anita McGinnis

Donald Trump?

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.