Latin Mayors Here For 6th Meeting On Local Government
By Marilisa Jimenez
Five hundred mayors and municipal officers from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean attending the Inter-American Conference of Mayors here this week drafted a proposal stressing local governance to send to the 2001 Summit of Presidents in Quebec.
"We hope the proposal will put political pressure and political support on the importance of committing themselves to a strong, viable system of government in Latin America," said conference director Allan Rosenbaum, a Florida International University professor.
The 6th annual event, sponsored by FIU and Miami-Dade County, is the largest and most important for individuals concerned with strengthening local government in Latin America, said Dr. Rosenbaum.
The assembly, at the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel, was held in Miami for the fifth year.
"I brought the conference to Miami because, in many ways, Miami is like the capital of Latin America," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto, a key sponsor along with county Mayor Alex Penelas. "Many Latin Americans send their children to school here. It has become a place where they conduct business."
Mr. Souto’s support has been invaluable to the success of the convention, Dr. Rosenbaum said.
"The conference," said Tony Ojeda, director of protocol, international trade and commerce for the mayor’s office, "is an opportunity for mayors to listen to expert seminars on technical assistance and hear the latest techniques on how democratic institutions are developed at local levels."
Mr. Ojeda said recent changes in Latin American government make this cause even more important. The election of mayors and local officials and control of financial resources by local government are two elements these countries are just beginning to manage, he said.
"The concept of local governments as independent taxing institutions are almost nonexistent."
The struggle between local and national government has always been important to him, Dr. Rosenbaum said. He said he once worked closely with the US Agency for International Development, or USID, on a project to build local governments in Chile, Peru and Paraguay.
"There is a famous saying by American Tip O’Neill that says ‘All politics is local.’ Democracy really depends on whether the citizens are being served," Dr. Rosenbaum said.
Roberto Morante Velasquez mayor of Carquin, Peru, a small city near Lima known for its fishing industry said he hoped the conference would aid in advancing the relationship between the state and municipalities.
"I also hope to discuss how to create jobs and a more productive work force," Mr. Velasquez said.
Luis Gomez de la Vega, director of an investigative institute in Venezuela, said he hoped to share his findings and research from a study his institute conducted on the city of Cumana, Venezuela, which he said greatly benefited the city.
"Mayors need to organize the communities’ power into political power," Dr. Gomez said.
Dr. Rosenbaum said he was content with the number of mayors attending despite a problem with many invitees attaining visas from the US consulate offices.
"We’ve had the worst time ever with people getting visas. Without the problem there would probably be 800 here," Dr. Rosenbaum said. "This event is in keeping with foreign policy. US consulates should recognize that it is beneficial."
Those who attended, organizers said, were responsible for accommodations and travel expenses.
Emphasizing national-local relationships, sessions were held on citizen participation, public safety and international-agency and private-sector funding.
The event is also supported by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States and the USID, which were the original sponsors of the conference in its first year, Dr. Rosenbaum said. The organizations also presented sessions, such as a special presentation by Enrique Iglesias, president of the Inter-American Development Bank.
"Enrique Iglesias, not unlike his famous namesake, is one of the most important people in Latin America. The USID puts in about $4 billion to $5 billion into Latin America," Dr. Rosenbaum said. "The Inter-American Bank puts in about $11 billion. If you asked a Latin American leader who he would most like to have dinner with, President Clinton or Enrique Iglesias, he would probably choose Enrique Iglesias."