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Mexico 200-Year Monument: Late, Costly, Un-Mexican

By: Mark Stevenson, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP).- A huge monument intended to commemorate the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico's independence uprising is late, over cost and doesn't have much Mexican content, officials said Thursday. Ignacio Lopez, director of the company overseeing construction of the onyx-clad tower, said he had to rely on stainless-steel columns from Italy, quartz panels from Brazil and a specialized lighting system made by a German-owned company.

"Between 63 and 65 percent of the content is foreign," Lopez said. "The columns cannot be produced in Mexico."

"If a material is called for it doesn't exist here, and only exists abroad, then it has to be brought in," he added.

The complex, 104-meter (343-foot) tall central tower is made of a series of columns that will support panels of onyx, which will be backlighted in changing patterns by LED panels sandwiched between two layers of the translucent stone.

The monument in downtown Mexico City was supposed to be the highlight of last year's celebrations of the start of the 1810 uprising by Mexicans against Spanish rule.

The design was intended as a gleaming symbol of hope and inspiration in a country beset by drug violence that has cost more than 35,000 lives since the government launched an offensive against drug cartels in late 2006.

The monument was supposed to cost around $35 million and be inaugurated on Sept 15, 2010. Lopez said Thursday it will wind up costing around $90 million (1.04 billion pesos) and won't be finished until the end of this year.

Formally known as the Pillar of Light, the tower has earned nicknames like "the Monument of Shame" and "the Monument of Mexican Dependence."

The cost overruns and delays have become a subject of bitter debate in Mexico. Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio, who took charge of the project for the government, has said he "detected inefficiency," but not corruption, in the project.

Both Lujambio and the building company said the project's architect delivered blueprints and plans for the job late and incomplete. And, they said, changes were required to ensure the stability of the tall columns, including digging foundations far deeper than originally specified.

"That's where the millions we have spent are: 50 meters underground," Lujambio said, referring to a complex foundation system of pilings and reinforcements.

But it was also clear the government came up with the idea too late to build it in time for the bicentennial.

The project was bid out in late 2009, and final drawings and calculations weren't available until June 2010 — just three months before it was supposed to be ready.

The builders also have had problems.

The company gave journalists a tour of the building site Thursday, where foundations are complete, but none of the columns has yet been erected.

A company worker on the tour stepped on a worn electrical cable snaking across metal rebar, sending a shower of sparks onto a metal staircase where reporters were standing.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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