Second part in a series on the candidates & issues in the municipal elections
Four years ago, the illfated administration of Alvaro Chamorro the first Sandinista to be elected mayor of Granada began under dubious circumstances amid allegations of electoral fraud, only to end two years later when he resigned amid allegations of corruption.
Chamorro, whose questionable victory in 2004 was called electoral theft by election watchdog group Ethics and Transparency, only reinforced his dodgy image once in office with cronyism, financial mismanagement and a failure to follow through on any of his lofty campaign promises.
By the end of his truncated administration, which ended with his March 3, 2007, resignation after a government audit revealed mismanagement of public funds and financial chaos, Chamorro wasn t even pretending to be mayor: He hadn t shown up for work in weeks and had moved out of Granada. The city government, meanwhile, was tittering on bankruptcy and on the verge of a general strike by municipal workers.
That was the grim scenario inherited by vice mayor Rosalía Castrillo, who took office early last year only to find a completely disorderly government that was overstaffed, dangerously indebted and pathetically inefficient a legacy she called the Chamorro debt (NT, June 8, 2007).
For the past two years, Castrillo has led an unremarkable administration that has been forced to spend more time cleaning up the mess of the past than focusing on the future.
Remarkably, Granada has managed to grow nonetheless, fueled by private sector investment and tourism. Yet as the mayoral elections approach once again, the question facing Granadinos and foreigners living here is: Will the new municipal government work as a partner in the city s future growth, or continue to be an obstacle to progress?
The Nica Times this week sat down with the top three candidates who hope to become Granada s next mayor in the Nov. 9 elections. A fourth contender, Fernando López of the Sandinista Renovation Movement, has since been forced out of the race after the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) decided to cancel his party s legal status last June.
Eulogio Mejia, PLC
A Granada-born agronomist and rice farmer, Eulogio Mejia is a longtime member of Granada s traditionally powerful Conservative Party, but was recruited to run as candidate for the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) after his party s legal status was canceled by the CSE. New to politics, Mejia, who is married with three children, said he identifies more as someone from the private sector than as a politician.
I am a loyal believer of private business and I believe that the mayor s office needs to work with business, rather than be an obstacle, he said, adding that his government will work to streamline and simplify all permit processes for building and business.
Mejia is also a firm believer in the future of Granada s tourism sector, which he said has everything it needs colonial architecture, tropical weather, a volcano, a lake and a lagoon to become a major international tourism destination, yet hasn t because the government hasn t done enough to work with the private sector to promote the city s development.
Not many cities in the world have the bounty that Granada does, he said, adding that fostering tourism will be his government s key strategy for creating jobs, the cornerstone of his administration.
First the mayor s office needs to do more to work with the private sector to expand the city s tourism offering to keep tourists in the city longer than just one or two days, he said.
Granada, Mejia noted, is not taking advantage of all its resources. The city has done nothing to develop an artisans market or its access to the Laguna de Apoyo, and is therefore losing tourists to Masaya and Catarina.
The city also needs to do more to develop its human resources, Mejia said. More Granadinos need to learn English and tourism-related skills so that the local economy benefits from tourism growth, and new companies don t have to bring specialized labor in from Managua or other parts.
Mejia also wants to organize more special tourism events during the calendar year, noting that the city booms during the international poetry festival in February, Holy Week in March/April and the patron saint festivities in August; yet there s too much downtime in between when tourism lags. Potential ideas for such events are a gastronomy fair, regional music festival or other type of international fair that could become an annual event, he said.
In the agro sector, Mejia says the best thing his government could do would be to build new secondary roads to connect the countryside to the city. Other than that, Mejia says, he s not making any promises during the campaign, because it s dangerous to make promises you can t keep.
But, he added, If I can t build or repair roads, I ll go to those communities and explain why I can t. It s important to be transparent.
Silvio Reyes, ALN
Born the second of 16 children in a humble Granada family, Silvio Reyes, candidate for the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), has spent more of his life living in the United States than in Nicaragua. In 1995, Reyes moved back to Granada after 37 years in California to take over his family s cigar business, Doña Elba, named after his mother.
A youthful-looking 60-year-old, R eyes is now getting involved in politics for the first time in his life; he said local powerbrokers offered him the candidacy of four different parties, but he opted for the ALN because he views it as the cleanest political party in part because it s the youngest party in the elections.
Reyes, who speaks English, said he would bring to the job his broader, American vision on life. I am from Nicaragua, but I have more of an American mind than a Nicaraguan mind, he said.
Reyes has already buddied up to the expat community here, reaching out to several local business leaders for support and advice.
In the event he wins, Reyes plans to formalize that relationship by forming a voluntarily advisory group of 8 to 10 foreign residents to help him govern the city and bring in more foreign investment.
Reyes vision for Granada is to have a city that is cleaner and safer, with the goal of making it a more attractive tourist destination.
In addition to his plans to put diapers on workhorses, Reyes said he wants to install crosswalks, make sidewalks and street crossings handicap accessible, and launch public education campaigns on pedestrian rights and littering. He also wants to revive and expand sister-city programs and increase municipal police patrols at night.
Outside of the city, the candidate said he wants to address housing needs and increase food production.
Reyes, who is married with children, said he s convinced that he can win the vote by attracting a large cross section of Liberal, Sandinista and Conservative Party voters. And just to make sure he has an edge in a close election, his mother, doña Elba, will be flying in from California to vote for her son on election day.
Flor de María Rivera, FSLN
A veteran architect specializing in restoring historical patrimony, Flor de María Rivera said it might take an architect s knowledge to rebuild the crumbling municipal government of Granada.
The single mother of three, Rivera, 52, has a distinguished career as an architect, restoring colonial landmarks such as San Francisco Convent and Plaza de los Leones in downtown Granada. In the 1980s and 90s, she also worked for the Ministry of Culture, helping to protect the capital s historic patrimony.
Today, she said, her past experiences as a city architect have given her a vision of what it means to be a city planner and to envision future potential and work to develop it.
Rivera, new to politics, said that of all the candidates running for mayor of Granada, she has the best chance of working with the central government to solicit the funding needed to move the city forward. She said that the moments of greatest progress in Granada have always occurred when the central government and municipal government were of the same party the Conservative Party, back then.
She said that she also wants to work closely with foreign investors so that they understand the vision of the government and city, and feel like there are open channels of communication with the mayor s office.
Rivera said that her government would strive to build a more sustainable tourism here that is both self-sufficient and broader in scope. Sustainable in that tourism helps local development and job creations; self-sufficient in that it helps generate other related industries, such as local food production; and broader in the sense that it offers more cultural and natural attractions to tourists.
To broaden the tourism offering, Rivera said Granada needs to develop its lake, which is an underused and wasted resource.
For years we ve been living with our backs to the lake, we need to turn the city around to face it, she said, adding that it has enormous tourism potential for boating, sport fishing, water recreation and lakefront development.
Rivera also hopes to save the old municipal marketplace by restoring the historical building and converting it into an artisan and clothing market, and relocating all the food and sidewalk vendors to another market that her government plans to build.