Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meeting El Presidenté – Mayor Avilés

This week marked another first in my experiences here in Loreto.  In the past I have made several brief references to local and regional politics (“Sports, Politics and Paving”, Feb. 2011) but, generally speaking, I have avoided commenting on that aspect of life here, for two main reasons; firstly, I do not feel qualified to express opinions, due in part to the second reason, as a guest in this country I have no say in the electoral process - which makes the event I am writing about this week all the more noteworthy.

The Mayor, Jorge Avilés (or El Presidenté) of Loreto, who was elected earlier this year, met with members of the expatriate community of Loreto for an informal talk followed by a question and answer session – something that has never happened before in the 6 years I have been here – and as far as I can tell, is unprecedented in Loreto!  Word of this event was circulated on Lynn Hamman’s bulletin board (which I described earlier “Lynn Hamman – In the Know in Loreto”, Oct. 2011):

 Expatriates, come meet informally with the Mayor of Loreto!

You are Cordially Invited to a Special Reception and Exchange for All Members of the Expatriate Community in Loreto, with Loreto's Mayor, Jorge Avilés, December 7, 2011, 5:00 P.M., at the Casa Blanca, across the street from La Palapa Restaurant. There will be complimentary beer, soft drinks, and appetizers. Loreto's Mayor will give a brief talk, and then meet informally with all, and field questions, in an effort to reach out and strengthen the vital link between Loreto's Municipal Leadership and our expat community.

And so, not knowing quite what to expect, I made plans to attend the reception with some other Loreto Bay Homeowners. 

The event was being hosted by Tom Woodard, a local entrepreneur with real estate investments in and around Loreto, at one of his properties in town with a large open second floor space that was ideally suited for such a meeting.  We arrived just before 5:00 and there were a couple of dozen people already there, enjoying a snack and drink and visiting among themselves. 

It is worth noting that the community where I live, in Loreto Bay, is quite separate, (both physically, 15 km south of the town, and socially) from the ex-pat community that is mainly centered in town, some of the members of which have made Loreto their home for over 20 years.  Having said that, there are steadily more connections being forged between these communities on many individual levels, as people meet and share interests together, as well as on larger scales, like the recent Paella Competition and Gourmet Luncheon (“Paella and Homecoming” Nov. 2011), shared events that bring people from both communities together.

From that perspective, the majority of people arriving at this reception were “Townies”, people who live in and around Loreto, with possibly 10 – 15% of the well over 100 people who eventually assembled, coming from Loreto Bay.  Most of those had arrived by the time that the Mayor, accompanied by more than half a dozen others, made his entrance.  He was greeted warmly by Tom, the Host of the event, who is completely fluent in Spanish, and then quickly the socializing of those in attendance was interrupted with a request for people to take a seat so that the evening could begin.

Mayor Avilés began by saying that the purpose of the meeting was not political or to discuss “contentious” issues, rather, his core message to us was one of inclusion.  He made it clear that his position as Mayor, and that of his administration, was that we, the ex-pat community, were considered as equals with all the other residents of Loreto.  Although we had no voice in the electoral process, his undertaking to us was that he wanted to “reach out” to us and assure us that we were recognized by the local government – not just in word, but in deed.

 Wow!  While I had expected that this would be some sort of a public relations exercise, Mayor Avilés had, in these opening remarks, made the most affirmative statement I had heard from any official during my time here in Loreto!  I did my best to make some notes of his comments as they progressed, however the communications were complicated by the translation that was handled by a couple of the staff and advisors that had accompanied him to this meeting. 

On that point, I thought his comments were also interesting.  The officials that accompanied him, whose names I unfortunately was not able to record, included the Director of Municipal Development, the Municipal Union Representative, the Tourism Director, the Mayor’s General Secretary, several Councilmen and the Head of the Water Department.  And while they did not take an active role in the presentation, I came to the conclusion that the significance of their presence was twofold; to underline to us the importance in which this meeting was held by the Mayor (that he wanted this group of his senior administration to be in attendance) and further, I think that it was a clear signal to THEM of the level of importance he gave this meeting with US. 

Some of the highlights of what Sr. Avilés said included that his government would be different from the past administration (which had a rather notorious reputation, which I will not dwell on) and indeed, a large part of his focus during the first six months since the election had been devoted to recovering from the bad situations that he had inherited from his predecessor. He also stressed that we, as ex-pats, should consider ourselves equal to locals as far as his administration was concerned, and to that end he was appointing a bilingual representative specifically to address concerns within our community.

He also acknowledged several issues of importance including increases in property taxes, and new appraisals for tax purposes as well as federal charges for boat launches at the marina and increases in water charges.  In his comments he also recognized the substantial contributions that have been made by the ex-pat community toward supporting many charitable causes within the municipality, particularly those benefitting children.

He concluded with remarks that while this was the first such outreach to us, it would be one of many he would be making during his four year term.  One comment that received an enthusiastic (and good natured) response was that he understood, and he had made clear to his staff, the need to respond in a timely and responsible manner to our concerns – to show up, to be realistic in what they promised to do, and to DO IT!

During the Q & A session that followed his presentation, a number of specific issues were raised including a question of particular interest to us in Nopolo and Loreto Bay, concerning the stretch of highway between the town and our development to the south.  The issue of restoring power to the lighting that covers most of that portion of the highway (and has not been working for more than a year) was addressed and he made the undertaking that he was already discussing the situation with Fonatur (the Federal agency whose jurisdiction it was under) and furthermore he stated that his long term goal was the eventual upgrading of this stretch to a four lane road.  (Be still, my pounding heart!) 

My description of this meeting is not intended to be a comprehensive report of all of the issues that came up, but more a reflection of the overall tone and context of a unique, and perhaps in hindsight, historic, outreach by the highest elected local official in this municipality to a small, but representative group that have been previously excluded from any such dialogue.  As to the future, at the end of the meeting, one of the commitments that he made was that there would be more such meetings to come, as well, there would be a flow of information to the English speaking community from the Mayor’s Office, by way of Lynn Hamman’s bulletin board, that I referred to earlier in this piece.

This is yet another reason why I suggest that it is important for any Loreto Bay residents to join her Yahoo group (a link for which is in the posting I mentioned before) so that they can be informed as this type of information becomes available in the future.  It is my hope that when the next opportunity arrives for another meeting with Mayor Avilés and members of the local government, there will be an even greater number of residents participating – and particularly, a larger representation from the Loreto Bay community.

When we have been welcomed, and made to feel a valued part of the local community – for the first time – that brings a new meaning and perspective to Living Loreto!