San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Granada Mayoral Candidate Appeals to Expats

Speaking in simple and grounded terms, Fernando López, an architect and cultural director of the Casa de los Tres Mundos, addressed a group of foreign residents in Granada last Saturday afternoon to explain why he is running for mayor of this colonial city by the lake.

López, the most recognizable face on this year’s mayoral ballot, is running on the ticket of the leftist Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), though he’s better known for his previous association with a slew of other left-wing minority movements, some of which he has used to run unsuccessfully for mayor in the past.

Though the MRS has little traditional support in Granada, the party hopes to capitalize on the collective frustration of citizens who are fed up with the ineffectiveness of the previous two administrations headed by the Chamorro brothers, one who ran as a Conservative and the other a Sandinista – both with similar results. The latter of the two, Alvaro Chamorro, was forced to resign from office in 2007 and hand the keys to replacement Mayor Rosalia Castrillo, amid mounting allegations of corruption.

López, a city councilman and head of the local economic commission, sounded more like an architect than a politician during his speech to the expat community last weekend.

Far from the grandiose projects promised by former Mayor Alvaro Chamorro during a similar meeting with the expat community in 2005 (none of which he delivered), López spoke in nuts-and-bolts terms of a government that needs to be rebuilt from the foundation up.

The candidate called Granada’s ongoing financial crisis is a “structural problem” that needs to have its load-bearing columns reinforced before any new projects can happen.

“We need to resolve the problems at home first,” López said, noting that 90 percent of all tax income in Granada goes directly to paying the bloated municipal payroll, which includes a number of politically appointed staff who have no discernable job functions.

To salvage the municipal government, the tax base will have to be put into order, expenses will have to be controlled and new alternatives developed for generating additional income for the government, such as new business ventures and appeals to foreign donors through Granada’s numerous sistercity projects, López said.

Just by improving the government’s ability to collect taxes from people who currently don’t pay in this notoriously deadbeat city, López estimates the local government could increase the municipal tax roll from around $1.7 million to $2.6 million annually.

López also talked of the necessity of environmental protection – controlling deforestation and improving water quality and sanitation services through a recently approved $25 million German project to rebuild the city’s sewage system. These projects, he says, are the keys to helping Granada fulfill its promise of becoming a “tourism mecca” in the future.

López spoke of the responsibility of government, rather than lofty promises.

“We have the enormous goal of assuming administration of the city’s public services, which have been badly administer by (previous governments) and solving the city’s financial problems,” he said. He added that the best way he can help the local tourism industry as mayor is to “create conditions for business by providing good services,” including streamlining the permit process.

For a city that was guaranteed the moon and the stars by the previous mayor, only to suffer through four years of blackouts, water rationing and garbage-collection strikes, the simple pledge to establish normalcy and a semblance of order and workability sounded to many like a refreshing political promise in Granada.


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