Rafic Hariri’s Memorial Garden, São Paulo

Rafic Hariri's Memorial Garden

photography by: Omri Westmark

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On the 14th of February 2005, Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafic Bahaa El Deen Al Hariri, was on yet another routine ride with his convoy in downtown Beirut when a massive blast suddenly ripped through the surrounding streets. As a result, Hariri, along with 21 other people were instantly killed. Due to his status as a well-respected figure across the world, multiple memorials were erected in the aftermath of his death. Tucked away in a peaceful corner of São Paulo, a sculpture of Rafic Hariri pays tribute to the late Lebanese politician and his immortal legacy.

Born in 1944 to a family of Lebanese peasants in the coastal city of Sidon, Rafic Hariri had a modest start as an accounting student in Beirut Arab University. After his graduation, he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he rapidly managed to climb the social ladder as he established a real-estate firm that constructed dozens of shopping malls, royal palaces and mosques throughout the country.

 

Following the end of the Lebanese civil war, Hariri earned himself a reputation as a prominent nationwide figure when he partook in the efforts to rebuild the ravaged country. In addition, he was also one of the architects of the 1989 Taif Accord which officially ended the civil war and ushered a new era of peace and stability.

 

Over the years, Hariri accumulated a hefty fortune that made him one of the world’s 100 richest people. Eager to translate his economic and social accomplishments into a political career, Rafic Hariri first became the prime minister of Lebanon in 1992 and stayed in office until 1998, followed by another 4-year term from 2000 to 2004.

 

Hariri’s meteoric success and western-leaning policies also bought him a fair share of enemies, even after his departure from politics. That all came to a head on the morning of February 14th 2005, when the former prime minister was on his way back from a café with his 6-car convoy. As the vehicles reached the St. George Hotel near the coastal promenade, a booby-trapped truck detonated a massive bomb, killing 22 people, including Hariri and his bodyguards.

 

Though the identity of the main culprit behind the attack is still contested to date, the Shite militia of Hezbollah alongside the Syrian regime were considered as the only real suspects. In the months that followed, the assassination had a ripple effect that swept throughout Lebanon, leading to the Cedar Revolution and the subsequent withdrawal of the Syrian Army from the country.

 

Concurrently, several cities across the globe erected memorials in honor of the revered leader. Home to roughly 130,000 people of Lebanese descent (out of 7 million nationwide), Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, has long been a place where Middle-Eastern heritage is ingrained. In November 2005, merely few months after Hariri’s assassination, the city became the first to inaugurate a memorial dedicated to the late prime minister, even before Lebanon itself.

 

Wedged between rows of sumptuous villas in Jardim Paulista district, Rafic Hariri Memorial Garden was the brainchild of Instituto Futuro, an NGO created by Lebanese-Brazilians. Comprises a bronze sculpture of Hariri, the memorial was originally located in front of Lebanon’s consulate general, which has since been relocated further north. While Hariri is physically no longer with us, his legacy of national unity is forever immortalized in the hearts and minds of Lebanese people around the world.