400-plus Latin America officials huddle in Miami
By Ivan A. Rodriguez
The Inter-American Conference of Mayors and Local Authorities kicked off Tuesday in Miami with discussions about poverty, government decentralization and scarce resources sparking exchanges between panelists and the invitees.
"We're here to promote a series of interchangeable information. This county is the door of America, the capital of Latin America," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier D. Soto, who spoke first.
The event, the oldest and largest annual gathering of Latin American local government officials, was planned for four days and included an agenda of democracy, economic growth and environmental sustainability.
"This is not an academic event or a political event. This is a key to share experiences, to get together and talk. We do this because we believe in partnership and collaboration," said Bill Johnson, director of Port of Miami, who introduced the event along with Allan Rosenbaum and Christina Rodriguez-Acosta from Florida International University.
More than 470 people, including mayors, local council members, administrators, representatives of major international organizations and non-governmental organizations of possibly all countries in the Latin American region other than Cuba attended the conference at the Hilton Miami Downtown.
"You have the responsibility to give a good quality of life to people in your community," said World Bank's Rodrigo Chaves to the audience.
Dr. Chaves, director of poverty and economic policy for Latin America and the Caribbean at World Bank, said divisions in most countries on this side of the globe have very unequal distributions of wealth, which needs to be addressed in order to decrease poverty and decentralization to occur.
He mentioned that one-third of the population in Latin America, more than 160 million people, are living on less than $4 a day, and emphasized that the solution to poverty goes beyond giving money and includes a greater focus for communities to have access to drinking water, proper nutrition, basic services, education and public transportation among other things, all needed to address the issue.
Several attendees expressed frustration with lack of resources in their municipalities, arguing they are usually the last ones to receive funding, if any that is generated by their countries remains.
Cirilo Gonzalez, mayor of Guayas, Ecuador, said local governments also depend on the central government and questioned the efficacy of the help for projects distributed to from the World Bank.
"Why not focus the help directly to municipalities?" asked Jose Arabia, mayor of Caucasia, Colombia.
Kevin Sullivan, director of economic policies from the US State Department, said various initiatives to approach the problems to these regions could help in making politics more local.
Some of the initiatives, Mr. Sullivan said, include addressing regional threats from organized crime; having affordable energy; working on family ties with examples of the Sister Cities program, which links students, artists, government leaders and businessmen; and using business models currently successful in the US.
Last year's conference was attended by more than 550 participants, representing almost every country of the hemisphere. The initial hemispheric conference was held in Washington, DC, in 1994, but after significant increase in the international participation of mayors during the second conference, Miami is now its permanent home.
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