This year’s Corpus Christi celebration, set to begin on Thursday, could be the first in hundreds of years without officially sanctioned fireworks.
Despite protests from pyrotechnic artists, civic groups and other government officials, Cuenca fire chief Oswaldo Ramirez has refused to lift his ban on fireworks, which, along with the sale of candy and pastries, are a mainstay of the annual Corpus Christi event, also known as Setenario. Traditionally, there are nightly fireworks shows in Parque Calderon during celebration, as well as in other areas around the city.
Ramirez cites the August 2012 fire at the San Luis Seminary, adjacent to the cathedral, as the reason for the ban. Although it was never proven conclusively, fire investigators believe the the San Luis fire was caused by a globo, or hot air balloon, that fell on the seminary roof.
“The danger to historic structures in Cuenca is simply too great to allow the fireworks to continue,” says Ramirz, who admits it will be impossible to stop fireworks that are not officially sactioned.
Fireworks artists and some city officials say that fireworks are an integral part of the Corpus Christi tradition.
Jorge Baculima, a member of the Pyrotechnics Artisans Association of Azuay, and a builder of fireworks displays known as castles, says that the ban, which was not announced until last month, will cost him thousands of dollars. “I have bought the materials to make 11 castles and each one costs me $500. It will be devastating if I cannot sell my work."
Daniel Astudillo, Cuenca’s Historical Area Director, has also complained to Ramirez that Corpus Christi fireworks represent an important part of Cuenca’s history. “This is our legacy and to ban it from Parque Calderon will be a great loss to the celebration," he says, adding that fireworks are safe if they are handled and ignited with care.
According to Astudillo, talks are continuing in hopes of a partial lifting of the ban. The Setenario organizing committee met yesterday and planned to meet again today to discuss the issue.
According to historians, Setenario begin in Cuenca in the 1580s under the auspices of the church and in the name of Corpus Christi, which begins on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. In Ecuador, the celebration is much more popular in the highland provinces. Different towns in the region celebrate Setenario according to local tradition. While Cuenca is known for fireworks and candy, other towns emphasize costumes, music and dancing. In Cotopaxi Province, masked dancers try to climb 12- meter tall greased poles.
Cajas officially designated a UNESCO reserve
The Cajas Mountains have been officially declared a UNESCO International Biosphere reserve. In Ecuador, the Cajas join the Galapagos Islands, the Podocarpus-El Condor area in the southern sierra and Yasuni, in the Amazon rainforest, as UNESCO reserves.
The 976,000 hectare Cajas area, about three times the size of Long Island, New York, is the western flank of the Andes in southern Ecuador. Part of Cajas is already protected in the Cajas National Park.
The larger Cajas area being considered for biosphere status straddles the provinces of Azuay, Cañar, Guayas and El Oro, and is home to 850,000 people. It emcompasses the national park, as well as the National Recreation Area Quimsacocha, and a small part of the Pacific coast shoreline.
Photo caption: A fireworks "castle" is ignited in Calderon Park.