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Fate Is Cruel To Statue Of Christopher Columbus

By Ray Quintanilla

February 27, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- It has taken $7 million to reach this point, but it appears the final chapter in the sorry history of a controversial Christopher Columbus statue may be at hand.

It's a history that's worth recalling.

A giant statue of the world's most famous explorer sits in thousands of individual pieces, corroding away in a vacant lot outside San Juan -- much like the once-grand dreams of riches that hounded Columbus himself as he set out for the "New World."

It has cost the island $7 million to acquire and store the statue.

The bronze "Birth of a New World" was a gift to the people of the Western Hemisphere, says Zurab Tseretelli, a sculptor and former president of the Russian Academy of Arts. He built it to mark the 500th anniversary of the explorer's arrival in this hemisphere.

The statue stands 30 stories tall, about the same size as Lady Liberty on her pedestal in New York City.

But after several U.S. cities, including New York; Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; and Miami, said "No thanks" to the statue, it was brought to Puerto Rico in 1999 to anchor what were then plans for a beautiful new waterfront park in nearby Catano.

It is said Puerto Rico is the only part of the United States where Columbus actually came ashore, so it makes sense the statue should be erected here. Right?


Since its arrival, the lofty dreams of having this 660-ton statue assembled in a beautiful new park have crashed.

First, there was a run-in with the Federal Aviation Administration over whether the statue would pose a threat to landing aircraft at an airport near the park. Next, a costly lawsuit over plans to demolish dozens of homes to make way for the statue at another site derailed those plans. Then, the former Catano mayor, who used city funds to ship the statue here, was voted out of office.

A few days ago, the new mayor said if someone wants to take the statue off his hands, to give him a ring.

Otherwise, the plan is to leave Columbus where he is.

The city isn't going to spend another dime on the project, he said. There are too many other needs in Catano to dedicate more funds to a "pipe dream."

There's no public support for reviving the plan either, he added.

It's a sad ending, mirroring the last days of Columbus himself, one of the most controversial figures in history.

Columbus died a broken man, and not knowing the full magnitude of his exploration.

Now, the dream of a larger-than-life statue bearing his likeness is dying in 2,700 individual pieces decaying on the ground with a promise that was never fully realized.

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