REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Never mind that the bicentennial of Mexico's independence took place 16 months ago. Over the weekend, the government finally inaugurated the "iconic" monument intended to mark the long-ago event.
Woefully behind schedule and three times over budget, the Estela de Luz (Pillar of Light) quickly became a beacon for criticism as much as anything else (link in Spanish).
President Felipe Calderon presided over inauguration ceremonies on a chilly Saturday night, with fireworks and music and invited dignitaries. The monument is spectacular -- a 1,700-ton, 340-foot tower sheathed in sparkling quartz that rises above Mexico City's principal Paseo de la Reforma.
But it was supposed to be completed for Mexico's bicentennial, in September 2010, and it cost approximately $75 million, nearly three times the planned price tag. In addition, criminal charges have been filed against several officials in connection with irregularities in the bidding process.
Calderon blamed the cost and time overruns on the "enormous engineering challenge" posed by having to overcome a number of potential structural weaknesses and to fortify the tower against earthquakes. (Photos and video of the ceremony can be found on the presidency's website.)
"The Pillar of Light is a deeply felt tribute from today's Mexicans to the heroes who in the last two centuries have built this nation," Calderon said. "Starting today, we have a monument with which all Mexicans can identify."
Outside the ceremony, however, noisy demonstrators complained bitterly about the money spent and had another name for the tower: Monument to Corruption.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: A handout picture released by the Mexican presidency shows the Estela de Luz monument inaugurated Jan. 7, 2012, in Mexico City. Credit: Alfredo Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images