Cesar Chelala
A physician and writer

Bob Menendez Has a Dream

Artists, as we all know, are unusually perceptive and sensitive people. That is the case of Walter de Maria, an American artist, sculptor, illustrator and composer who, although born in California, lived and worked in New York City. He became famous by doing minimal and conceptual art, with forays into land art. Walter de Maria probably never imagined that his life would be intertwined in a strange way to the life, and dreams, of New Jersey’s Senator Bob Menendez.

To understand that connection it is important to know that the well-known senator, his wife and three business associates have been accused of conducting a wide range of corrupt schemes in the United States and abroad. Menendez, the proud Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been accused of accepting bribes that included bars of gold bullion, more than $500,000 (much of it stashed in his jackets,) a luxury Mercedes car, mortgage payments and luxury exercise machines.

Given his position of power, it is not surprising that Mr. Menendez has a wide array of connections, such as Fred Daibes, a well-known New Jersey builder; Wael Hanna, the founder of a halal meat certification company headquartered in New Jersey; and José Uribe, who worked in the trucking industry. One cannot but be moved by Senator Menendez holding hands with his wife Nadine, as they were hustled by reporters, eager to receive the senator’s words of wisdom.

The five defendants mentioned above have been charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion under the color of official right, using Mr. Menendez position to force somebody to give them something of value. Those charges were angrily denied by Mr. Menendez, who accused federal prosecutors of distorting the facts. Mr. Menendez, need one to say it? has maintained his innocence and refuses to resign.

Those mentioned can be considered just minor irregularities, in the inventive life of Senator Menendez. In 2018, Menendez met Mr. Wael Hana, the founder of a halal meat certification company from New Jersey. The intermediary was Ms. Menendez, then Nadine Arslanian, who was a long-time friend of Mr. Hana. In the months that followed, both Mr. Menendez and Mr. Hana had several meetings with Egyptian officials, who asked for favors from the senator.

Among those favors, it was a request to Mr. Menendez to send “highly sensitive” information from the State Department about employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Ms. Menendez sent the information to Mr. Hana, who sent it to an Egyptian government official. In addition, Mr. Menendez wrote a lobbying letter for an Egyptian government official asking U.S. senators to release a hold on $300 million in aid. These are among the many actions that earned Mr. Menendez several gold bars, among other presents.

I apologize to the reader of this article for testing his patience. What does the artist Walter De Maria have to do with fulfilling Mr. Menendez’s dreams? Let me explain. By a curious incident of fate, I live in New York across the art gallery that holds one of the most famous of Mr. De Maria’s works.

It is called The Broken Kilometer, and consists of 500 solid brass rods (6 ft 7 in) long by 2 inches in diameter, which are laid on the floor in 5 rows of 100 rods each. The sculpture weighs 18.75 tons and, if all the rods were laid end to end it would stretch for one kilometer (0.62 mi). The sculpture is illuminated by metal-halide stadium lights to simulate sunlight.

A few days ago, I took a friend to see the De Maria’s sculpture. And that’s when I had an epiphany. Without realizing it at the time (the sculpture was commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation in 1979) I thought that De Maria was fulfilling what could be Mr. Menendez’s most ambitious dream: to be the owner not of 500 brass rods, but of 500 gold rods, which would make him what he always wanted to be, no matter the personal cost: a rich and powerful man.

About the Author
César Chelala is a physician and writer born in Argentina and living in the U.S. He wrote for leading newspapers all over the world and for the main medical journals, among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Japan Times, The China Daily, The Moscow Times, The International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Harvard International Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, and The British Medical Journal. He is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.
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