Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) signed a letter of intent with her Guatemalan counterpart on Friday, promising Taiwan aid to help restore buildings and historical sites there that have been repeatedly damaged by earthquakes.
Unlike all other economic and technological aid programs that Taiwan has engaged in with its allied countries, this marks the first "cultural diplomacy" launched by any political leader from Taiwan to help preserve historical sites and enhance bilateral cultural ties with a diplomatic ally, she said.
According to preliminary plans, Taiwan will help restore and renovate the Museum Pilar de Zaragoza and the Monastery Sor Juana located in Antigua, a city of monuments founded in 1543 with a strong Spanish colonial influence.
Restoration and renovation of the two historical sites are expected to be completed in two years, with a budget of around US$700,000, said Wu Ching-fa (
Lu signed the letter of intent with Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein on Friday in a ceremony witnessed by President Oscar Berger.
Lu and her group toured the city of Antigua on Saturday with Antigua Mayor Antonio Siliezar Portillo. Lu and Siliezar jointly announced the restoration and renovation project during the tour.
Throughout its history, the city now known as Antigua Guatemala, or La Antigua, has been repeatedly damaged by earthquakes, and always the Antiguan-style buildings have been rebuilt. But on July 29, 1773, earthquakes wrought such destruction that officials petitioned the King of Spain to allow them to move the capital to safer ground, which led to the founding in 1776 of present-day Guatemala City.
Antigua was left to rusticate, largely but never completely abandoned. Today, its monumental bougainvillea-draped ruins and its preserved and carefully restored Spanish colonial public buildings and private mansions form a city of charm and romance unequaled in the Americas. In 1979, UNESCO recognized Antigua Guatemala as a Cultural Heritage of Mankind site.
Touring the city, Lu said that Guatemala is a country blessed with a rich cultural heritage. She said she was moved deeply by Guatemala's historical and architectural magnificence the first time she visited the country nine months ago.
The first thing she did after returning to Taiwan was to meet officials and academics to work out a plan to help Guatemala preserve its cultural heritage, Lu said.
Lu gave Siliezar a satellite photo of Antigua City taken by the Taiwanese satellite ROCSAT-II and invited Siliezar to visit Taiwan in the near future.
The vice president also expressed hope that Antigua City will give seedlings of Guatemala's national flower and tree to Taiwan as a gift so that a beautiful Latin garden can be nurtured in Taipei City.