Mexico Gets Independence Monument 1½ Years Late

By Salon Staff

Published January 8, 2012 4:09AM (EST)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — President Felipe Calderon led the lighting of a soaring independence monument Saturday that was supposed to be ready for Mexico's 2010 bicentennial, but came in nearly 1½ years late and way over budget.

Some Mexicans have suggested the quartz-clad light tower be dubbed "the monument to corruption." Costs nearly tripled from about 400 million pesos to more than 1 billion (equivalent at current rates to about $75 million), and auditors found 95 improprieties in contracting that resulted in criminal charges against at least four public employees.

It was supposed to have been ready on Sept. 15, 2010, for the celebrations of the bicentennial of the start of the country's 1810 independence movement.

"It's going to be remembered as an example of theft and uncontrolled spending," said dentist Francisco Ponce, 40, who came out to see the inauguration. "It will remembered as a monument to corruption."

Still, "it is imposing," he conceded as he gazed up at the 343-foot (104-meter) tall tower that looms over Mexico's main boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma.

Businessman Oscar Anguiano, 42, said the cost was worth it. "We need an icon for Mexico City that will identify us the world over," he said.

"The Pillar of Light," as it is officially known, drew "oohs" and "aahs" from a few hundred people who gathered to watch it be switched on, bathing the sky in a soft glow from hundreds of panels of quartz that are backlighted in changing patterns by LED panels.

Authorities have said a government board incorrectly authorized payment for the architect even though he turned in incomplete designs. The construction management company bid out construction contracts without following normal procedures and before they even had final drawings.

Foundations for the tower, which is supported by steel columns, had to be dug much deeper than originally planned.

The project has drawn criticism because only about one-third of the building materials have come from Mexico. The stainless-steel columns had to be imported from Italy, the quartz panels from Brazil and a specialized lighting system made by a German-owned company.

"The worst thing is that it's not even Mexican," Ponce said.

The modernist design also rankled some Mexicans.

"For that price, I would have expected a structure of better quality, something like the Angel," schoolteacher Javier Vazquez, 53, said, motioning down the boulevard toward a neoclassical pillar topped by an angel, The Angel of Independence. It was erected by dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1910 to mark Mexico's centennial.

Diaz was widely hated, but his monument has come to be loved and was adopted as the symbol of Mexico City, leaving out some hope for Calderon's Pillar of Light.

Calderon took the long view. "Beyond the natural controversies that this kind of structure normally awakens, it will be an icon for our capital city," Calderon said.

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------