Officials from the federal and city governments told an audience of about 175 Cuenca expats Wednesday night that they are committed to improving services for the city’s fast growing English-speaking population.
Much of the program was devoted to explanations of current and planned services, including the city’s new light rail system that begins construction in 2013, and the work of Cuenca’s new immigration office.
Ana Maria Serrano, Regional Coordinator of the Ministry of the Exterior, who heads the immigration office, announced two changes she says will make life easier for expats: the transfer of the drivers’ license program management from the police to the municipal government as well as the possibility of an English language driving test; and, the elimination of a requirement that foreigners who have never been married present a statement from the U.S. government that they are legally single in order to obtain a cedula, the Ecuadorian national indentification card.
“Cuenca is the most popular place in Ecuador for English-spkeaing residents and there about 5,000 of you living here,” Serrano said. “Our goal is to make your life as enjoyable as possible.” According to immigration estimates, there are 2,300 to 2,400 English-speaking foreign residents in Cuenca and as many as 2,500 more on teaching, student, religious and other visas.
The meeting, held in a ballroom at Hotel Oro Verde Hotel, was a joint presentation of the Cuenca mayor’s office and the Ministry of the Exterior.
The mayor’s office was represented by Vice Mayor Ruth Caldas, who said that Cuenca city services were among the best in Ecuador and described new investments to upgrade utilities, water, sewage programs. “We are proud of the fact that Cuenca’s water is the best in Ecuador and in South America,” Caldas said. She also announced the start of a bio-fuel program to convert the city’s garbage to energy.
Caldas made the point that Cuenca’s government is committed to new ideas. “I am 30 years old and the mayor is 36 and we take a youthful approach to running the government.”
Cuenca tourism director Gladys El Juri extolled the pleasures of life in Cuenca. “This is the most beautiful city in Ecuador and we want you to enjoy it as much as we do.” She also urged expats to “respect our culture and help us protect it.” El Juri said her office would maintain contact with expats through English-langauge websites Cuenca High Life and Gringo Tree.
A video presentation provided details about the Cuatro Rios Tranvia, the new light rail system projected to be on line by the end of 2014. The system will be the largest infrastructure project in Cuenca history, costing more than a quarter billion dollars, and will have the capacity to carry 120,000 passengers a day. The route will run from Pan Americana Sur at the intersection with Av. Las Americas on the southwest side of town, to Av. Ordóñez Lasso, through the historic district, by the main bus station and airport on Av. España, to Parque Industrial in the northeast. Lines in the historic district will run on Calles Gran Colombia, Mariscal La Mar and Gaspar Sangurima. The round-trip will cover 21.4 kilometers.
Photo caption: Cuenca's new light rail system