Susana Asensio, The New Mayor of La Antigua Guatemala
by Julie López.
If architect Susana Asensio embodies anything, it’s perseverance. Her bid for mayor’s office in the Sept. 6 elections was her fourth attempt to reach La Antigua Guatemala’s mayor’s office, a post she will hold from Jan. 14, 2016 through January 2020. This time around, she ran with a “comité cívico” (a local civic committee) that gathered community leaders, as opposed to the national Unionista party. She won with 27 percent of the votes. Her closest competitor reached 18 percent.
Two other aspects also made a difference for Asensio: (1) her door-to-door approach, to share her government plan and listen to people’s concerns, as opposed to a high-profile political campaign with scenic billboards, and (2) the outcome of ill-managed previous administrations (including the current one) marred by indictments and corruption charges—previous mayor Adolfo Vivar is still incarcerated and facing said charges. Most voters seemed to have had enough.
Hers is a tall order, as she admitted in a Sept. 10 interview with Canal Antigua: recover the trust in public administration by serving the people. In the current administration, inexperienced municipal government officials were unable to execute more than 10 percent of the budget meant to improve the city’s infrastructure. This in a city where there is a lot to be done.
“The lack of running water is a constant complaint, as well as [the lack of] citizen security,” Asensio said. The newly elected mayor believes that the municipality can accomplish plenty in preventive security by properly administrating public areas. For instance, she explained that the bus terminal and the market were combined into one, and the market is completely accessible to the city, thus making the whole area vulnerable. Antigua buses heading to the capital or surrounding villages have been targeted by assailants or extortionists. In 2015, these attacks left at least one driver dead and other drivers and passengers or passers-by wounded.
Asensio admits that her administration needs to work toward mending political differences and including the villages, previously isolated by public administration, into an all-comprehensive development plan. “We can decentralize tourism,” she said. “Several villages have historic patrimony that is as important as the one in Antigua and offer beautiful views of the city, and could also benefit from tourism.”
In Antigua, another pending task is controlling loud music, alcohol consumption and public disorder from patrons frequenting bars and nightclubs, which spill onto the streets, according to the future Antigua mayor. “It has a great impact in the life quality of Antigua residents,” she said. “Also, tourists interested in our history and culture leave due to this out-of-control party in the streets.”
Asensio recognizes the need for a vibrant nightlife, but not at the local residents’ expense, especially when businesses can sound-proof their facilities to prevent noise from spreading beyond their walls.
She says that laws prohibiting alcohol consumption in the streets, and a new law on noise levels in public areas, will be enforced. Also, to stop drug distribution and consumption, Asensio says that prevention and cooperation with the police are musts.
Public parking for locals and visitors is another challenge ahead of her, particularly in the weeks leading to and during Holy Week. Her proposal: a public parking facility outside Antigua. “[Usually] it takes hours to get in or out of Antigua, and it ruins the experience for everyone (locals and visitors),” Asensio said. “We located several municipal properties that we could use as provisional parking lots, where the vehicles will be safe and local transportation can shuttle visitors to the main attractions.”
But a public parking lot is not the only goal when thinking “underground.” Asensio believes that all the wiring for electricity and other services, such as cable and Internet, can also be installed underground.
She also announced that working with other mayors in Sacatepéquez is necessary to deal with common problems such as trash collection and management. The same goes for traffic planning on the highway leading to the different Sacatepéquez counties.
By the end of her administration in 2020, Asensio hopes to have increased the quality of the services that the city offers. “We hope that Antigua recovers its shine as a city of worldly importance, and becomes a source of positive news,” she said.