South America bloc’s woes leave architectural gem forlorn

SAN ANTONIO DE PICHINCHA, Ecuador (AP) — It’s a gravity-defying edifice that befits the lofty ambitions of what was supposed to be a symbol of South American unity.

Set against an arid moonscape on the equatorial line, two cantilevered glass wings soar dramatically above a reflecting pool, symbolizing freedom and transparency and looking like something out of a science-fiction movie.

But for all its architectural grandeur, the headquarters of the Union of South American Nations outside Ecuador’s capital seems as moribund as the group itself. What was once an aspiring diplomatic hub bustling with official translators and cocktail parties for visiting dignitaries looks more like a ghost building, with barely half the staff it had when it was inaugurated to great fanfare in 2014.

Designed by Ecuadorian architect Diego Guayasamin, the $43 million building was built and donated to the group by former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, a protege of Chavez.

The prize-winning building, 75 percent of which is underground, is equipped with a state-of-the-art assembly hall, an impressive art collection and salons named for leftist icons like Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Just like in public buildings in socialist-ruled Venezuela, Chavez’s bright-red signature and fiery citations dominate the hallways.

By JOSHUA GOODMAN

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