By Deborah DuBoff
Auki Tituaña was elected as mayor of Cotacachi in 2019. The alcalde cordially invited me to his offices at city hall to share his plans for his administration. He is a soft spoken man and I was impressed with his amiable nature and the thoughtful consideration he gave to my questions.
I began by asking him about his vision for Cotacachi and what he is focusing on at this time, “I have returned to office after 10 years of administrations under two different mayors. My main focus is to reactivate the economy. We are working with all the communities of Cotacachi to develop community tourism which will include developing the agricultural industry and promoting the craftsmen.
“We want to continue to develop the canton with a focus on sustainability and ecology with the preservation of nature. There are many places of natural beauty here such as Lake Cuicocha, the Intag Valley, and the many waterfalls. These places also have a deeper spiritual significance to the people. We want to incorporate more experiences for tourism that will help people appreciate the significance of these places.”
In addition, he commented that this region is a prime agricultural region which has not been fully supported by previous governments. He recognizes the importance of healthy growing conditions and protecting the watershed. So, one project will be planting more trees to help protect the watershed.
Developing community tourism
The Indigenous communities would like to develop tourism based on food, and teaching about and respecting their heritage. The municipio and the communities will work together to create projects that will include tourist features that will incorporate the religious background and cultural heritage of the people. We plan to develop our cultural museum to invite the youth of the community to participate to make the link stronger between the Municipio and the communities.
His administration has already started a project to recycle cooking oil and use it to make soap and other health and beauty products that will be made locally. Tituaña says the plan is to get the youth involved in the projects.
What is Auki’s message to expats thinking about coming to Cotacachi?
“I invite you to come soon. You are welcome here. We want you to know that we are working to make conditions right for you to live here and for you to feel at home. We take seriously the right of people to move and settle here.” He mentioned that there are projects to improve the sense of safety in the area as well as projects involving expats and the community that will continue to build understanding and connection.
An example of an existing successful program between expats and the community is Amici Cannis https://amicicannisusa.org/ The program was started by a veterinarian from the U.S. to help improve the well-being of street dogs and to educate the community about care of the pets. The clinical staff includes Ecuadorian veterinarians as well as the founder. The program operates with expat and Ecuadorian volunteers in cooperation with the Municipality.
International Cooperation Office to help foreigners feel more at home in Cotacachi
Mayor Tituaña plans to develop an office that he will call the International Cooperation Office which will be established to help foreigners feel more at home in Cotacachi. The office will offer assistance to foreigners who need help with Visas, property purchases and other common legal issues. It will also be an avenue to help with knowledge exchange between people from other countries and the residents of Cotacachi Canton.
In addition to the International Cooperation Office, the Cotacachi the mayor is working on developing personal ties with communities in other countries by naming Ambassadors from Cotacachi who can form links with the cities they came from. The concept is to have foreigners who are living in Cotacachi contact their home cities and develop connections between private citizens, NGOs, universities, and schools to exchange information and resources. He hopes the program can evolve to have a group from Cotacachi visit the foreign community and to have a group from the foreign community stay in Cotacachi. The goal would also be to help develop joint projects with funding from the outside resources.
Bringing international recognition to Cotacachi: The first city in Ecuador to be recognized as bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
During Alcalde Auki Tituaña’s previous three terms (1996 until 2009), Cotacachi won three international awards and he completed several projects focusing on the ecology of the region. His goal is to carry that dedication through his current term.
The mayor and his staff have already completed a project to create bicycle lanes throughout the city. The concept is to make Cotacachi environmentally healthy and safe and friendly to bicycles and pedestrians just like many cities in Europe. The project was started eight months ago with the full support of the mayor in coordination with Roberto Lescrauwaet in the Office of Transit, Transport and Street Safety (Movil del Norte).
The project gained recognition for Cotacachi as “Ciudad Amigable con el Peaton y Ciclista,” the first city in Ecuador to be bicycle and pedestrian friendly. The award ceremony took place on February 12 in front of City Hall. The recognition was endorsed by the World Health Organization, The Pan-American Health Organization, the National Transport Agency, the Ministry of Tourism, the World Bank, and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health. Speakers during the ceremony mentioned the importance of having safe cities for all residents but especially children. There are now safe bicycles zones and pedestrian zones in front of all schools in the city.
The Ciudad Amigable project demonstrates a level of commitment to action that Alcalde Tituaña and his administration have brought to Cotacachi that has already initiated a positive change. I look forward to future progress.
Deborah DuBoff and her husband moved to Ecuador from the Pacific Northwest in 2014. She has been living in Cotacachi since 2017. Writing is her hobby. She has a blog about being an expat in Ecuador that you can check out at www.thrivinginthenewnormal.com