Interview: Mayor Antonio Espinoza Infante, La Libertad in Ecuador
This is the first of a three-part series of interviews that will spotlight each of the three Mayors, from the Cantons that make up the Province of Santa Elena, Ecuador: La Libertad; Santa Elena; and Salinas. We chose to do this on the eve of their first 100 days in office. The format will be our traditional open, free-form interview format, used in the Pirates of the Pacific articles. The articles are all translated from the original Spanish language.
HGQ: Mayor Espinoza, thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to meet with us.
Mayor: Your welcome. My pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to come out and speak with me.
HGQ: Mayor, tell us about your connection with La Libertad?
Mayor: I am of La Libertad. Born here. Raised here. Studied here. Worked here. Started a business here. Live here. Served in past political administrations here. Now, I am fortunate enough to have been elected Mayor by the people of La Libertad, for which I am very thankful. I am a native son of La Libertad, 100%.
HGQ: With that depth of knowledge and experience regarding La Libertad, If you could only use just a short, few words, how would you describe La Libertad to the world?
Mayor: Urban, commercial and progressive.
HGQ: It is hard to ignore the commercial buzz all around La Libertad. How do you perceive it? What is your unique perspective?
Mayor: My perspective is that of a participant in that commerce. From an early age, I was a commercial merchant in La Libertad. I can understand the many opportunities, but also the select challenges faced by the small business community in La Libertad. I can also understand that as larger national and international companies establish a foothold in La Libertad, they bring many special opportunities to the community, but also bring their own separate and distinct challenges, as opposed to the local merchants. I perceive my challenge as well balancing the interests of both types of commercial activity and ensuring that small business owners remain successful, while welcoming the larger investments from more corporate enterprises.
HGQ: I can understand that tricky balance. I come from a country, the United States, where the small business owner has been somewhat diminished as a priority and struggles to survive. In La Libertad, I still see many small, family owned shops, even as the area enjoys hosting the regional mall and two large grocery stores. In the United States, those family owned stores are all but gone.
Mayor: Exactly. We want to avoid that in La Libertad. We want the local, family-owned business to thrive and flourish in La Libertad. Many of those owners are life-long friends and they are all my constituents who entrusted me with their vote as Mayor.
HGQ: So, switching topics to me you know we cannot avoid, how did you get involved in politics?
Mayor: Really, it started back in 1998, when I received the honor on behalf of the good people of La Libertad to represent them as Council for the Canton. This position allowed me to oversee and audit the actions of the Mayor’s office and offered me great insight that I would later utilize in formulating my own policies and procedures as Mayor. At the end of my two year term as Council, I was again fortunate enough to be selected as Vice Mayor, under the administration of Mayor Patricio Cisneros. Politics, however, is never a perfectly straight line. After my positive experience as Vice Mayor, I wanted to make sure I could follow a singularly independent role on behalf of the people of La Libertad. I started a political movement and, ultimately, political party, popularly known as Lista 5. We had a good run, but ultimately, that political party was disbanded. What I learned from that experience is that despite my strong desire to remain independent and represent all the people, forming political alliances is critical to the life of a politician. With that aim in mind and at the behest of the La Libertad community, I formed my second political party, the Partido 103 or, as it is more popularly known, Movimiento Libertad Independiente (MIL).
HGQ: I notice the word “Independiente” (independent) in the name of the party.
Mayor: Yes. However, independent can never mean isolated. We share one Province and all the politicians in this Province need to work together for the common good of all its people. We cannot see party, only the interests of the citizens. That is why I am fully committed to strongly cooperating with the other two Mayors of this Province, which as you know, are from different political parties.
HGQ: Well, I apologize, as I interrupted your train of thought, regarding your political history.
Mayor: No, not at all. I was really almost done. From the MIL party movement that we started in 2013, we really reached out to a much larger citizen base than in my previous attempt at party building with Lista 5. We were rewarded with the confidence and trust from the people of La Libertad, as they elected me to a the position of Mayor in 2014. It is a confidence I won’t forget.
HGQ: So, you are only at about your first 100 days, but what can you say has been successfully accomplished thus far?
Mayor: Well, there is so much more that still has to be accomplished than what has been accomplished, but we are proud that due to a more efficient system of revenue collection, we have more than doubled the revenue collection rate from the previous Mayoral administration, during the same time period. Accurately assessing and collecting revenue owed La Libertad is one of the ways we can assure of bringing the required services to the citizens of the community. Also, we received a firm commitment from the Central Bank in the amount of $2.3 million USD, in order to complete one of my campaign promises, which is to build a modern Municipal Market, so that small business vendors have a professional and decent central locale from which to sell their products and services. It is not appropriate or respectful of the small business community to ignore their need for reasonably professional accommodations, so their businesses can thrive and grow.
HGQ: In my opinion, it is always good to see a government looking out for the needs of the small business community.
Mayor: We will always do so, as long as the people of La Libertad see fit to have me serve them as Mayor.
HGQ: Again, I have interrupted you. Please continue.
Mayor: No interruption at all. It is always good to hear feedback. We are also proud of our accomplishment in securing a much needed $6 million credit in order to continue our aggressive road paving and sewer upgrading campaign. We must modernize our infrastructure in La Libertad, if we hope to partake of the many modern-day opportunities that exist for the citizens of La Libertad.
HGQ: Forward looking, where do you see those opportunities for the people of La Libertad.
Mayor: We are recognized as the commerce center for the entire Province. It is with honor that we receive that recognition. It is not only because of existing establishments, such as the El Paseo Mall that resides within La Libertad, but future commercial projects, such as the almost completed Punta del Mar Hotel and Shopping Center.
HGQ: Yes, the new modern boutique hotel ideally located at the epicentre of La Libertad’s commercial district and less than half a block from the beautiful Malecón.
Mayor: Exactly, that project is scheduled to be completed very, very soon.
HGQ: Yes, I believe the firm deadline is December 1, 2014.
Mayor: It will be a welcomed addition to the commercial base of La Libertad and a perfect example of how we can fuse our existing strength as a commercial base, with the future opportunity of tourism that lies in mutual cooperation with all three Cantons, across the entire oceanfront of Santa Elena Province. That’s how I see La Libertad’s future…as the center of commerce for the Province, but evolving to blend into the tourism impetus that is sweeping our entire region. The future of Ecuador lies, in great part, in tourism, but our Canton has the additional strength and convenience of offering ready access to commercial enterprise and commercial opportunities.
HGQ: What else do you see in La Libertad’s future.
Mayor: I think it is essential that we offer a modern soccer stadium for the community. It isn’t only about a First Division national soccer club, but there are many local soccer leagues and the opportunity to advance local and regional soccer tournaments that will provide entrainment for the public, but also spur visitor tourism and an increased traffic for area merchants. As was another of oft stated campaign pledges, I will continue to fight, strongly, for the renewed establishment of a bus terminal in La Libertad town proper. I understand the modern new facility in Ballenita is an excellent example of a modern and progressive bus terminal. It is hard to ignore the positives of that project, just as it is hard to ignore the negative impact it had on the town of La LIbertad. Our citizens have great travel inconvenience. Many visitors that were left at the heart of La Libertad, in order to partake of its commercial base, now never even enter the town and never get to discover its appeal. It is not taking anything away from the Ballenita central bus terminal, to suggest that La Libertad still needs a return of its own central terminal, in the heart of our community.
HGQ: Those are some impressive and challenging goals.
Mayor: It is not even anywhere near what we have planned. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to focus on the basics. For example, we need to have a thorough, but efficient and rapid permitting process, so that merchants that wish to conduct commercial transactions in La Libertad or who wish to construct…to build…in La Libertad do not have their valued time wasted. We need to prove that we can do things efficiently, timely and yet professionally. We also need to create a more cohesive marketing campaign, in order to promote La Libertad and the entire region. Government helping businesses…businesses helping government. That is the only way to build our community…mutual cooperation.
HGQ: I was glad to hear you talk about tourism and even mention the Punta del Mar project. How do you see La Libertad’s past and future as relates to tourism, specifically?
Mayor: Well, our past is somewhat clear. We have one of two regional yacht clubs, which few areas in the world can boast, in such close proximity to one another. The Puerto Lucia Yacht Club has been a valued member of our community for some time now. We have the exceptional Malecón project that has restored the beauty of our oceanfront and which I want to see expanded. We have reclaimed our beaches after a heavy erosion problem. We have positioned ourselves well to partake of tourism opportunities. What we need now, as we move towards the future, is to better capitalize on these advantages, for example, reaching out to the global yachting community. We need to attract more brand name hotels to La Libertad and the region. We need to continue expanding and diversifying the options as to where to dine and where to shop in La Libertad. We need to rehabilitate our building facades and improve the quality of our streets and sidewalks. We have work left ahead of us…much, much work.
HGQ: I have to ask, do you feel the new airport in Salinas has been beneficial to La Libertad’s tourism efforts?
Mayor: Absolutely. There, you see…regional cooperation. What happens in one Canton, can positively impact all others…our Province. Working united for the people and not seeing only political parties is essential. The airport in Salinas has brought many more tourists to La Libertad. What was once a flight into Guayaquil and a two hour drive, has become a flight directly into Salinas, for the good people of Quito. We have seen an increase in visitors from that region of the country and also from foreigners that can now discover our Peninsula directly from Quito.
HGQ: In closing, what message do you want to send around the globe, regarding La Libertad?
Mayor: Well, we invite people to come and discover what can be accomplished when you have the local cooperation of merchants, the regional cooperation across political parties and the welcome support from the national government. We encourage people to visit La Libertad first-hand and experience the energy…the opportunity…the excitement that is La Libertad. Come for the shopping…stay for the rest. That is the La Libertad we are working hard to build and to bring to the attention of the national and global community.