La Laguna's former Mayor Ana Maria Oramas

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La Laguna Mayor: World Heritage status
has brought rewards and responsibilities

29 March 2006: After a career in banking as well as local and regional government, Ana María Oramas y González-Moro was elected Mayor of La Laguna, Tenerife, in 1999. She is a founder member of the Coalición Canaria (CC), which was formed in 1993 and was then made up of eight different parties, including nationalists, conservatives and former communists. It governs the Canary Islands Autonomous Region as a minority administration and is also represented in the Spanish parliament, where it traditionally supports the government coalition. In 2005, the parties that originally made up the CC were dissolved. In an interview with City Mayors’ Spanish Editor, Daniel González Herrera, Mayor Oramas discusses her city’s regional, national and international importance. Update November 2008: Fernando Clavijo Battle replaced Ana Maria Oramas, who resigned for personal reasons.

| World Heritage | Tourism | Economy | University | Culture | Politics | The Americas |

City Mayors: In 1999, La Laguna was declared a World Heritage site. Can you describe the benefits and obligations this award brings with it?

Mayor Oramas: The inclusion of San Cristóbal de La Laguna, to give it its full name, among the cities with the World Heritage status has certainly brought with it considerable advantages. The importance of the city now extends beyond local and national boundaries. Its increasing worldwide reputation is attracting more and more visitors, supported by a very visible advertising campaign and the activities of the group of Spanish cities with World Heritage status (1).

We cannot deny that the World Heritage status has also brought with it great responsibilities as far as conservation and development of the city and all its parts are concerned. We believe that our Special Central Area Plan (Plan Especial del Casco, PEP), which was approved by all political groups, is an excellent instrument to maintain a dynamic city and, at the same time, adhere to conservation and sustainable development parameters.

City Mayors: Tenerife is generally associated with ‘beach tourism’. Does La Laguna try to distance itself from that image by promoting the city as a destination for cultural tourism?

Mayor Oramas: It is not a question of trying – the city has always been a cultural destination. Tourists, who visit to La Laguna, come in the knowledge that they will find countless historic and cultural treasures. The city is the centre of culture in the Canaries, a place of learning and home to the first bishopric on the islands. These elements are very important to the kind of tourists we are trying to attract. Furthermore, La Laguna also offers a great natural environment, including mountain areas for outdoor activities and an impeccable coastline from which to enjoy our temperate climate. So we can offer tourists an all-round holiday experience.

City Mayors: Tourism specialists in the US have recently created the concept of ‘Civic Tourism’, which sees a tourist location as a product that not only needs marketing but also requires continuous improvements. Dr Dan Shilling, one of the originators of civic tourism, said recently in an article for City Mayors that successful tourist promotion requires all beneficiaries of tourism to cooperate to constantly offer visitors a more enjoyable experience. To what extent does the City of La Laguna work together with other interested parties to improve La Laguna as a tourist destination?

Mayor Oramas: The tourism business community of La Laguna is regularly taking part in conferences and symposiums dedicated to tourist promotion. In fact, it provides considerable input to promotional strategies and advertising campaigns. The business community is also represented on committees created to promote specific tourist attractions such as Bajamar-Punta del Hidalgo (2).

City Mayors: The recent destruction by fire of the Bishop’s Palace must have come as a terrible blow to your city. What plans are being made for and who coordinates the re-building of the Palace?

Mayor Oramas: As the Bishop’s Palace is owned by the bishopric of San Cristóbal de La Laguna it is it’s office that co-ordinates its reconstruction. We are still in the process of removing debris of the fire and recovering items that we thought were destroyed by the blaze. An architectural team has started to draw up plans for the rebuilding of the Palace. At the same time, the City Council, together with other organisations, is working towards putting together a coalition for the financing of the rebuilding.

City Mayors: Apart from tourism, what other industries are important to La Laguna? Does your administration conduct an active economic development programme?

Mayor Oramas: In La Laguna we have the most attractive European-style shopping district in the Canaries. We offer an alternative to the covered shopping malls of other towns. The historic part of the city, particularly after the completion of the restoration work, is also highly attractive to shoppers. Here they can find a wide range of quality outlets, selling everything from famous brands to locally produced goods.

La Laguna is also the agricultural centre of Tenerife, with some 70 per cent of cattle raised in the countryside surrounding the city. The areas of Tejina and Valle de Guerra, in the north east of Tenerife, are home to most flowers and plants companies of the Canaries. Their products are exported to all parts of the world.

La Laguna airport and the airport in the south of the Island are the two principal gateways to Tenerife. La Laguna also has a number of industrial and commercial areas where companies have created hundreds of jobs.

City Mayors: La Laguna University is one of the oldest universities in Spain. How important is it to your city to be home to this internationally renowned academic institution?

Mayor Oramas: During the past centuries, our city grew and developed around what then the University of San Fernando, now the University of La Laguna. It is therefore an essential part of our community. It has always attracted some of the most eminent scientists, artists and academics. La Laguna also benefits socially, culturally and economically from the students who come to the university from all parts of the Canaries, the Spanish mainland and indeed from all over the world. The city is also fortunate to have other prestigious centres of learning and research such as the Astrophysics Institute of the Canaries, the Tropical Diseases Institute, which counts Dr. Manuel Elkin Patarroyo as one of its professors (3), and the Bio-organic Institute Antonio González, all of which are connected to the University of La Laguna.

City Mayors: As you said, the University of La Laguna is attracting young people from all over the world, making the city a dynamic and lively environment. Does your administration have any specific youth programmes?

Mayor Oramas: The cultural and musical events, which take place throughout the year in La Laguna, are very popular with students as they are with the rest of the population. As part of our youth agenda we promote activities specially targeted at young people but also encourage our youth to join in at events aimed at all in our city.

City Mayors: You said earlier that La Laguna was the cultural capital of the Canaries. Could you outline the cultural activities in the city?

Mayor Oramas: We have had a very hectic cultural programme during the past few years. Every year we hold a symposium to commemorate the designation of the city as a World Heritage site, an event that is attended by leading intellectuals. The city also holds poetry readings, concerts of classical and modern music, a festival of historic cinema, which will be held for the second time this year, and many permanent exhibitions. This year we will also be celebrating the centenary of the birth of Óscar Domínguez, who was born in La Laguna and became one of the most renowned representatives of surrealism. The cultural activities in the city never end, although we are saddened that the re-opening of the Leal Theatre remains unresolved due to the delay of the Spanish government to release the necessary finance for its complete refurbishment.

City Mayors: As a member of the Coalición Canaria, could you describe your political philosophy and outline your vision for La Laguna.

Mayor Oramas: Since taking office in 1999, my colleagues from the Coalición Canaria and I have had as our main aim to improve the quality of life of all the people in La Laguna, irrespective in what part of the city they live. This is an important point, because historically the city has always included highly developed neighbourhoods as well as areas that lacked many amenities. While not forgetting the more developed part of La Laguna, we set out from the start to improve basis services such as street cleansing, lighting and security in areas like Taco, La Cuesta or the north east Region, which together account for more than half of the city population. Our accomplishments are there for all to see, with improved roads, better street lighting and security as well as reliable cleansing and waste collection services.

Our political philosophy is based on the belief that all citizens of La Laguna deserve and have a right to equal access to public services. We also encourage for everybody to feel part of our community and that the city belongs to all its citizens.

City Mayors: We believe the next municipal elections are due in 2007. Will you again be a candidate for Mayor of La Laguna?

Mayor Oramas: My team and I would feel very privileged if we were allowed to continue our job beyond 2007, natural with the approval of the electorate. But it will be up to my Party to decide who will be its mayoral candidate in the next election.

City Mayors: One of the reasons that UNESCO awarded the city World Heritage status was that La Laguna was the blueprint for many colonial cities in The Americas. Is this relationship with the ‘new continent’ still alive?

Mayor Oramas: Yes no doubt, because of our historic links and also contemporary interests, our relationships with cities in North and South America are strong and mutually beneficial. For example in April 2005, La Laguna was twinned with Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, with the idea of developing joint projects on our historic heritage but also of forming socio-cultural links. We also maintain close relationships with other cities in The Americas, which were colonised from the Canaries and La Laguna. A delegation from La Laguna thus visited San Antonio, Texas, in 2005. We are also proud that José de Anchieta, the apostle of Brazil, and founder of Sao Paulo, was born in our city. Finally, we have developed solidarity projects with cities in Cuba and Venezuela, places where many people from La Laguna went to live during the last century.

1) The reference is to the group of Spanish cities with World Heritage. The group includes the majority of the cities with that status in Spain: Ávila, Cáceres, Córdoba, Cuenca, Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, Segovia, Toledo, Alcalá de Henares, Eivissa/Ibiza and San Cristóbal de La Laguna.

2) La Laguna’s natural environment, including mountains and the coastline.

3) Dr. Manuel Elkin Patarroyo, born in Colombia in 1947, discovered the vaccine against Malaria. In 1996 he acquired Spanish nationality.

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