Magic of Expo melting in the Spanish sun

EXPO '92 closed in Seville early this morning, with firework displays, lasers, water shows, speeches, and vast quantities of food and drink for hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The sun shone brightly for the last day of the world fair, drying off the rain that had saturated the site at the weekend. The streets bristled with heavily armed policemen, some resting pump-action shotguns on their hips as they cruised the streets on their Harley Davidson motorcycles. King Juan Carlos, the Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, and the entire cabinet were among the visitors, the more distinguished being ferried by helicopters that provided a clattering soundtrack to the big day.

But the question hanging over Seville is how much of this excitement will last when the circus has moved on. The organisers have a battery of statistics to prove the success of the event, which has put new life into the idea of universal exhibitions.

It has also brought wealth and world attention to Andalucia, an underpopulated and deprived region which is highly dependent on agriculture. The budget for the event itself reached dollars 2.5bn ( pounds 1.47bn), over the levels anticipated, though the organisers say that expenditure and revenues balance out. Billions of dollars have been spent on the region, bringing a new high-speed train link with Madrid and a smart new airport that is more like a luxury hotel than a regional hub.

But some of the statistics do not quite add up. Though the 42 million visits to Expo surpassed the target of 36 million, the number of visitors was below the 18 million forecast. This was because it was the inhabitants of Seville who took the greatest interest in the spectacle. Only one-third of the visitors came from abroad.

Now the pavilions, weird and wonderful concoctions of modernism, post-modernism and traditionalism, will be emptied; most will be dismantled. New uses must be found for those that will stay. The 530-acre site, previously a patch of marshy ground, may become a research centre, a university or a theme park, elements of which are already present in the exhibitions. One of the more bizarre legacies of the Expo will be the chunk of glacier that Chile imported for its pavilion; it is to be left to melt in the Guadalquivir.

The big question for Seville and Andalucia is whether the benefits of Expo will disappear in the same way. One building has already been earmarked as an unemployment office for those left jobless by the end of the party.

There has already been some local grumbling. The Expo Commissioner, General Emilio Cassinello, and Jacinto Pellon, chairman of the Expo state company, have been attacked by rightwingers, demanding an inquiry into Expo's financial management.

Mr Cassinello is tipped as Spain's next ambassador in London, the reward for a job well done. A year that has seen not just the Expo but the Barcelona Olympics has clearly given added prestige to the country.

It is ironic that in a year of such high-profile events, it is precisely that confidence that has seeped out of the country. Spain's public optimism is belied by looming recession and the government's need to use currency controls to defend the peseta.

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