CATANO, PUERTO RICO -- Christopher Columbus has made landfall here, and the natives are nervous.

A 660-ton cast bronze statue of the explorer at the helm of his ship with his right arm raised in greeting, called "Birth of a New World," is a gift from Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli to the people of the U.S.

It took a while to reach Catano. A number of American cities, such as Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Baltimore, and Columbus, Ohio, considered but rejected the statue for various reasons, including size and the costs involved in shipping and assembling.

Columbus languished in a Fort Lauderdale warehouse for six years before he finally landed, in 6,700 numbered pieces, in Catano last fall. That locale seemed to make historic sense. Puerto Rico was Columbus' first landfall in the U.S on his second voyage in 1493.

However, even that choice was scarred with controversy. The Federal Aviation Administration ruled that the first site selected in Puerto Rico presented a hazard to landing aircraft. Planners shortened the 350-foot statue to about 300 feet (still twice as high as Lady Liberty without her pedestal) and relocated it to a park near the Bacardi Rum Distillery.

Catano Mayor Edwin Rivera Sierra anticipates a windfall for the city. "This will put Catano on the map and will be the centerpiece of a retail and entertainment complex," he said. Sierra estimated the monument and surrounding restaurants and shops will attract more than half a million visitors each year.

Although Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 2000, is the target date for unveiling the completed Columbus, obstacles such as government and environmental permits, public hearings, relocations of several private homes and financing arrangements remain unresolved.

But if visits to the park where the statue pieces rest under 24-hour guard are any indication, Catano's got itself a hit. Visitors from all over Puerto Rico have already come looking for "la cabeza de Colon" -- the head of Columbus.

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