Although it began as a protest against road work, a group of historic district business owners are now demanding that Cuenca’s light rail project be stopped.
Business owners and their supporters marched through the historic district on Friday demanding that Mayor Marcelo Cabrera stop tram construction, saying it will hurt their businesses. The protestors carried signs claiming that the tram would also cause social disruption and change the character of their neighborhoods.
Protestors marched down Calle Marsical La Mar, part of the proposed tram route, ending up at the mayor’s office on the corner of Simon Bolivar and Borrero. “We voted for Mayor Cabrera because he said he would stop the train and we now ask that he follow his word,” said business owner Enrique Vintimilla. Cabrera had criticized some aspects of the project during his successful campaign against former Mayor Paúl Granda, who had made the train, or Tranvia de los Cuatros Rios, a centerpiece of his administration. Since the election, however, Cabrera has said that it is too late to make major changes to the project and that construction will continue.
Protests began last week when business owners on Gran Colombia and Mariscal La Mar complained about new street work they said was keeping customers away. In a meeting at tram headquarters, city officials explained that the work was primarily intended to repair leaky water mains but that some preparation work for the tram would be done in conjunction.
One protester said that the tram would not only be bad for business, but for tourism as well. “The train will take people off the street and will affect the financial well-being of the city,” said business owner Hitler Parra. “This is a very bad project and we will work hard to stop it.”
It is still possible that historic district tram route changes could still be made. A team from UNESCO arrives in town in three weeks to review technical plans and to assess the impact on historic district buildings.
Photo caption: Tram protesters march on Simon Bolivar on Friday; Photo credit: El Mercurio.