Cuenca’s Municipal Control Agency has shut down construction on one site and is considering closing others in the environmental buffer zone just east of the Cajas National Park. The department says that property owners, many of them foreigners, are not abiding by restrictions mandated by building permits.
According to Carlos Alvarez, agency director, strict controls must be maintained in the areas that adjoin the park because it is part of the Cuenca watershed. “We have excellent water and a beautiful landsape in the Cajas and cannot allow building violations that will have negative impacts,” he said.
Alvarez said violations included disregard of setbacks from roads and property boundaries as well as violations of maximum sizes of structures. In one case, he said, a wall for a private residence was built less than a meter from a main highway when the required set back is 24 meters.
Some expats property owners say, however, that the real problem in the buffer zone are local land owners who are building without permits. “The camposinos are blaming their problems on foreigners and local officials are reluctant to tell the whole story for political reasons,” said one expat. “As long as rules are enforced fairly, we shouldn’t have a problem.”
Alvarez said his agency would step up inspections and enforcement in the buffer zone and may ask city government for stricter regulations. “This environment is critical to Cuenca and we need to do all we can to ensure that it remains healthy,” he said.
Vilcabamba expat kidnapped, found safe in Cuenca
Three Ecuadorians and one U.S. citizen have been in arrested for allegedly kidnapping a Vilcabamba expat. The woman was found bound and gagged in a condominium bodega on Av. Solano in Cuenca on Thursday morning. According to police, she suffered minor injuries due to rough treatment.
Police say the kidnappers planned to demand $400,000 ransom for the woman’s release.
The kidnap victim, a U.S. citizen, was abducted from her Vilcabamba home on Tuesday. According to reports, the victim apparently knew two of the kidnappers, including a fellow expat involved in the plot.
The victim was transported to Cuenca in her SUV where she was locked in a storage locker at the Rosenthal condominiums. A security guard at the complex heard her screams, released her and notified authorities.
The case is being investigated by the National Police Anti-Kidnapping and Extortion Unit.
According to police, North American expats in Vilcabamba have been involved in more than a dozen kidnappings, home invasions and extortion plots in recent years.
Cabrera says he, not Correa, will make tram decisions
Mayor Marcelo Cabrera reacted to President Rafael Correa’s threat to withdraw federal funding for Cuenca’s light rail project, saying he will make decisions that are in the best interest of the city.
On Wednesday, Correa said that the government would suspend funding if the tram route through the historic district is changed. Cabrera has questioned the route chosen by former Mayor Paúl Granda and his staff since he took office, saying he is concerned that the tram could damage historic buildings.
A technical team from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) arrives Monday to review details of the project, including Cabrera’s concerns. Cabrera says he has no plans to change the route unless the UNESCO team recommends it.
Cabrera said he regretted the president’s meddling in local affairs. “I don’t think he is properly informed on the project and this is too bad,” Cabrera said. “It is my job as mayor to do what is best for the city of Cuenca.”
Photo caption: Police stopped construction on this property in the Cajas National Park buffer zone on Tuesday; Photo credit: El Mercurio.