Rocky course for lighthouse in eye of storm: A decades-old project in the Dominican Republic to commemorate Columbus has divided the country, writes Colin Harding
Wednesday 07 October 1992
In the event he did not even attend the opening ceremony: Mr Balaguer cancelled all engagements after his sister, Enma Balaguer de Vallejo, 73, who was also his closest adviser, died following a visit to the lighthouse on Sunday.
The building towers over a city that suffers chronic shortages of power and many basic necessities. It cost one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere anything between dollars 70m (pounds 40m) and dollars 250m; no one is saying how much. It is designed to glorify the Spanish heritage of a nation whose 7 million people are overwhelmingly black or mulatto, and whose tiny 'white' upper class enjoys a lifestyle that owes more to Miami than to Madrid.
Dominicans say of the 86-year-old autocrat that he only stood for his fifth presidential term in 1990 so that he could take charge of the lighthouse celebrations. For decades it has been the pet project of an elite inordinately proud of its European Catholic culture, and it has come to fruition on the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus, who made his landfall in the Americas just along the coast from Santo Domingo on 12 October 1492. The bones of the 'Admiral of the Ocean Sea', which have lain for centuries in Santo Domingo cathedral - the oldest in the Americas - will rest henceforth in the cross-shaped monument.
President Balaguer is the very embodiment of the cultural pretensions and prejudices of the Dominican elite. In 1984 he published a book deploring the Dominican Republic's 'ethnic decline', due to excessive immigration from Haiti, , which occupies the other half of the island of Hispaniola. Last year he decreed the mass expulsion of Haitian sugar cane-cutters who had allegedly overstayed their welcome. Mr Balaguer has now made the Columbus quincentennial the centrepiece of a drive to sell the republic in the United States and Europe as a politically stable, economically promising paradise, 'the land Columbus loved best'.
This undertaking has involved 'beautification' of the capital, which has some of Latin America's most wretched slums. At least 2,000 families have lost their homes in the process, and shantytowns that have not been bulldozed have been concealed by an enclosure known locally as the 'wall of shame'.
But much of the pomp planned by Mr Balaguer for the opening ceremonies yesterday had long since fallen flat. The Pope declined an invitation to preside, delaying his arrival until Friday, when he will attend a Latin American bishops' conference. And the streets of the capital have been thronged in recent weeks by demonstrators protesting at the notion of celebrating an event that led to the annihilation of the native Taino people and the importation of thousands of African slaves.
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 4 Julian Assange and Edward Snowden join piracy mogul Kim Dotcom’s political campaign in New Zealand
- 5 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
Jihadi John': MI5 may have identified Isis militant who killed David Haines but options limited
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: Police will be on high alert on Friday whatever the result
David Haines beheading: David Cameron says Britain will hunt down Isis 'monsters' shown in video murdering aid worker
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Salmond accused of laughing off national debt with ‘what are they going to do: invade?’ joke
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...
£24,000 per annum pro rata (21 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...
£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Are you looking for work in Ed...
£3000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wor...