By Karla Sánchez Arismendi
During last week’s visit of United States Ambassador Michel Fitzpatrick to Cuenca, Azuay Governor Esteban Bernal proposed creating a consular liaison office in the city.
In addition to meeting with the governor, Fitzpatrick attended the opening of the EducationUSA Student Advisory Center at the Abraham Lincoln Center on Presidente Borrero, an institute that teaches local children English and assists older students in obtaining information about higher-level study programs in the U.S.
“I have asked that this educational office be expanded and generate other activities within the framework of consular objectives,” Bernal said. “Our macro-objectives are focused on migration needs, which is what we most need to meet. But in parallel, we want to have an educational, tourist, commercial, productive, academic exchange”, the governor said.
There are two fundamental reasons why Cuenca needs a U.S. consular office, Bernal says. The first is the size of the North American community, which numbers about 11,000, according to the Municipal Office of Foreign Relations. “Our public policy has to be focused with this community in mind,” he says. “The second reason is the need to serve our general community in matters related to access to the U.S. Cuencanos, Azuayos, and people from Cañar Province should be able to process visa and other paperwork locally. I am aware of the online options but there are other issues that require attention in person.”
Bernal acknowledges that his proposal faces immediate difficulties as a result of the restrictions due to the Covid 19 pandemic. However, he says that Fitzpatrick was receptive to his idea. “When something may happen depends on the U.S. government and, of course, the pandemic.”
Regarding the recent election of Guillermo Lasso as president, the governor said that the new government recognizes that Cuenca is multicultural city where a number languages are spoken and where different cultures interact. In 2018, a United Nations envoy called Cuenca the “most culturally diverse city in South America.”
Bernal added: “Because of the diversity and the many foreigners living here, we must recognize that we are all part of the same community and need to provide services to serve everyone.”