San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Tale of Two Sandinista Mayors

San Juan del Sur and Granada are the country’s two most important tourist destinations and expatriate enclaves. Both are bustling with new tourism development and active communities of foreigners who are happy to call Nicaragua their adoptive home.

In January 2005, both cities appointed new Sandinista mayors, one for better and the other for worse.

At first, both expat communities were slightly edgy about the implications

of a new Sandinista municipal government and what that would mean for continued investment and development. Two years later, one of those communities – San Juan del Sur – is continuing onward and upward, accompanied every step of the way by Mayor Eduardo Holmann, who receives consistently good marks for his commitment to development, accessibility and for running a town that is generally clean and orderly.

Granada, on the other hand, went in the other direction under the poor management of Mayor Alvaro Chamorro. Though private sector development and tourism infrastructure has continued to grow and evolve in this colonial city by the lake, it has not been with the help or thanks to the mayor.

Chamorro, a Conservative-turned Sandinista – or, more accurately, a political opportunist – came into office under a shadow of fraud and with a twiggy 11-vote victory over renowned Granada statesman Nicho Cuadra.

During the contested recount, which the head of electoral observation group Ethics and Transparency claimed was rigged to hand the election to the Sandinista candidate, Chamorro irresponsibly promised another revolutionary uprising if he didn’t win.

After he took office, he convoked a meeting with the foreign investors and residents of Granada to assure them that he was “not a Sandinista” and that he would have an open-door policy with the expat community. He said he wanted to make the expat powwows a monthly event. But, like most of his promises and plans for governance, the next step was never taken.

Chamorro was the type that would give out his cell number and tell people to call him, then turn off his phone and change his number.

For the next two years, municipal projects lagged behind schedule, or were never completed at all. Garbage collectors went on strike, and filth piled in the streets. The disorderly municipal marketplace became increasingly chaotic and uncivilized by the day. More than a year ago, virtually all the sewer grates were stolen from the Central Park and downtown streets, exposing treacherous holes that any passerby could fall into. A year later, most haven’t been replaced.

The allegations of irregularities started almost instantly, but Chamorro was usually nowhere to be found. He repeatedly failed to show up for scheduled interviews with journalists, he failed to receive union leaders and other concerned citizens, and he skipped his monthly meetings with City Council.

In recent months, Chamorro wasn’t even pretending to be Mayor; he regularly didn’t show up for work and eventually moved to Managua. (What does it say about a city’s state of affairs when its own Mayor doesn’t want to live there?)

Fueled by the private sector, Granada has managed to grow and advance in some areas in recent years. But a city needs a government to deal with problems, invest in infrastructure, maintain public order, attend to the needy, protect the vulnerable, and keep the city from becoming some sort of bizarre libertarian fantasyland.

Granada deserves better. It’s a city with unique historical heritage and a quaint way of life that is rare in the world. It’s a fascinating blend of cosmopolitan city and rural farm town.

The city has weathered much worse in its history than Alvaro Chamorro, but thankfully his days as Mayor are over. The next Mayor – even if she just shows up for work – will be an improvement.


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