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

IT IS ONE of the many ironies surrounding the Columbus lighthouse project, which was officially inaugurated in Santo Domingo yesterday, that its progenitor did not see his long-cherished dream become reality. For Joaquin Balaguer, octogenarian President of the Dominican Republic, is blind. This concrete monolith, 800ft long and 150ft high, will henceforth project a 30 billion-candlepower crucifix of light into the Caribbean night sky, but the President can only imagine what it is like.

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.

(Photograph omitted)

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn