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
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
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.