Alejandro Higuera Osuna, Mayor of Mazatlán
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||Mayor of the Month for April 2012
Alejandro Higuera Osuna
Mayor of Mazatlán, Mexico
3 April 2012: Alejandro Higuera Osuna is currently serving his third term as Mayor of Mazatlán. With its sandy beaches, the city is a popular tourist location on Mexico's Pacific coast but it has also been named as the 15th most dangerous city in Latin America. Mayor Higuera acknowledges that inter-gang violence remains a problem but he points out that thanks to better police intelligence and equipment the murder rate has dropped dramatically since 2010. Alejandro Higuera is a member of the centre-right party Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). He served as Mayor of Mazatlán from 1999 to 2001, 2005 to 2007 and is now in his third term, lasting from 2011 to 2013. (Mexican mayors cannot serve consecutive terms.)
In the following interview, Adriana Maciel, City Mayors’ Mexico Editor, discusses with Mayor Alejandro Higuera his achievements in office and the issues most important to his city.
• Economic development
City Mayors: You are in your third term as Mayor of Mazatlán. What has contributed to your popularity?
Mayor Alejandro Higuera: It has been achieved through a government-society alliance through a different way of governing. We have differentiated from the old government system (authoritarian and unilateral) not only in this municipality, but throughout the country. In our first three-year term (1999-2001) we implemented a public policy whose objective was to promote social participation, a policy where everyone took part in the government - civil servants, and citizens in their neighborhoods, districts and towns. All with one goal: to solve public problems through human and economic contributions. At the end of my last year in office (2001) the mayor and officials had held direct dialogues with more than 31,350 citizens who could see their mayor in their neighborhood, district or town. Together they discussed problems and agreed solutions.
Social participation was also reflected in the new way of undertaking public works, because under the new scheme - in the same year - over 773,500 families were directly involved in some public work that benefited them directly. This scheme, where citizens were included for the first time in the way of governing, resulted in a positive approval towards me as a person.
CM: What are your significant achievements during your three terms in office?
Mayor AH: We have built the major urban public works of large and medium infrastructures that have modernized the municipality. We have attained more social participation with civic education in the new way of governing. People now trust in government with direct positive results - for example, in the collection of public taxes. We have constructed the largest of hydraulic works in order to provide the whole city with drinking water, thus ending the water shortage crisis of the past four years that affected homes and industry. These four actions, among others, led to governability, which in turn set in motion a better reception for investment in the port, as well as social peace.
CM: The fact that the mayoral terms are very short and mayors in Mexico can’t be re-elected seems very wasteful, above all because many projects can’t be carried through within three years and may be stopped if the succeeding mayor is of a different political persuasion. Do you think you could have done a better job if elected for more than three years and with the possibility of re-election?
Mayor AH: Yes. I think the city and the municipality would have benefited in a better way, since social peace, social participation, the rapid pace of public works in existence were stopped during the following government periods. It was noted that mistrust by society in the new government led to certain levels of ungovernability.
CM: What are your priority areas to improve life in the city?
Mayor AH: Employment, public service efficiency, governability, security and investment attraction.
CM: To what extent do you work together with other mayors, in particular with Mayor Marcelo Ebrard?
Mayor AH: We work in co-ordination with neighboring mayors in priority areas such as drinking water, economic development and public security. With the head of government of Mexico City, despite the enormous distance between our cities, we keep the door open to any investment project or collaboration in terms of institutions, respect, and the corresponding protocols.
CM: With regard to the ‘Baluarte’ bridge and the Mazatlán-Durango highway, what are the economic benefits for Mazatlán city?
Mayor AH: The benefits are many. The highway represents the great economic opportunity that the country, the state and the municipality were waiting several decades for. Mazatlán and the south of Sinaloa will benefit directly, first with the flow of pleasure and business tourists who will come to Mazatlán´s port by that route, and then with the huge dynamism that will bring the loading and unloading of goods that will be embarked to the east from this port, or will arrive from all over the world to Mexico or the US. Mazatlán’s hotel and service industry will grow and its image as a global trade reference will also be enhanced. All these actions will end in a better economic outlook for Mexico, Sinaloa and Mazatlán.
The largest and highest bridge in Latin America will be a means of communication, but at the same time a masterpiece of architecture that will attract international tourism. This will directly benefit the city of Durango and Mazatlán port as part of the tourist corridor between both cities.
CM: Does Mazatlán have any problems regarding air and water pollution, garbage collection and disposal?
Mayor AH: No. Mazatlán has no pollution problems. The only power plant that emits gases to the open air currently maintains a conversion process, which will soon prevent emissions. Garbage is collected every day and is confined in such a way that the city is always clean. Our beaches have been continually certified so that we have received safety certificates by authorities that are specialized in such matters.
CM: Has your administration implemented any special measures, systems, and so on, to combat such problems if so, which ones?
Mayor AH: In the three three-year periods we have improved public services with the sole purpose of keeping the city clean and avoiding outbreaks of contamination. We have also implemented new systems for wastewater treatment in both the city and suburbs in order to avoid river basin and subsoil contamination.
CM: Recent research by the Mexican NGO ‘Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Publica y la Justicia’ has shown that Mazatlán is the fifteenth most murderous city in Latin America and sixth in Mexico. What is the security situation in Mazatlán?
Mayor AH: I don’t know the details of their findings but I cannot deny that unfortunately in this city, as in almost every city in the country and in many cities throughout the world, violent events have occurred. But those high-impact events that happened last year have now been dealt with. Our police forces are now better equipped, and in co-ordination with other state and federal agencies have implemented processes of intelligence, under which more criminals are being arrested, thus maintaining a climate of peace. Our city is not as described by the international media. Here any tourist can walk freely through our streets and enjoy the attractions. No problems of violence alter social life and tourist pursuits here. Our port maintained optimal levels of national and international tourism during our carnival, at Easter, at international congresses, and at the week of the motorbike. Large events are constantly being developed with the participation of visitors from all over the world, and the result is acceptable. There is no difficulty regarding security.
CM: What are the causes of violence?
Mayor AH: The origins of the unfortunate events that have occurred in the city were the settling of scores among criminal gangs who temporarily converged in the city.
CM: Who is behind the violence?
Mayor AH: I do not know for sure, but it seems that behind the violence that is the scourge of some parts of the country are criminals who seek to extort and gain territory to commit crimes.
CM: How does it affect the population and local business?
Mayor AH: The people of Mazatlán and its businesses live and develop in peace. The threat of extortion which occurred in other regions of the country fortunately did not reach Mazatlán. Those who visit us immediately realize that the city functions normally with regard to people and business.
CM: What are you, the city, and the police doing to reduce violence?
Mayor AH: We are doing all that is needed to protect citizens. We have strengthened undercover investigations to provide security for Mazatlán’s citizens and its guests. It is a permanent program, which was implemented in the three three-year terms. Today we maintain close co-ordination with other levels of government to implement security measures enacted by the federation and prevent those people who want to commit crimes from coming to this city.
CM: What should the state/federal government do?
Mayor AH: We are already doing it. We are co-ordinated in preventing outbreaks of violence.
CM: What policies should Mexico’s next President pursue?
Mayor AH: The same - to intensify its policy against crime and to block the way of those who try to commit crimes in our country and in its cities.
CM: Some 29 mayors have been murdered. Are you taking any special protection measures?
Mayor AH: No. I have taken no special measures. As mayor, I look every day for law and order to be respected and observed. To this end I continue with my normal activities: going to meetings with citizens, businessmen and authorities in any part of the municipality, urban or rural. I always start my activities very early in the morning, sometimes as early as 5am in rural communities, neighborhoods or districts of the city. I have not taken special measures because in my city there is not a climate of violence that requires me or anyone else to do so.
CM: What do you think are the reasons for those murders?
Mayor AH: As I noted above, the settling of scores among people who engage in crime and who are of the type that unfortunately passed through this city.
CM: What advice would you give to all Mexican mayors regarding their personal security?
Mayor AH: To work hard for their cities; to seek to improve their police forces with the provision of better equipment and fair wages, and to achieve governability in their municipalities so as to attract investment and create jobs. By doing so, social peace is achieved, and then any mayor will be able to govern freely.
Construction of the Mazatlan Cathedral started in 1875 and was completed in 1899
The Baluarte Bridge
The Baluarte Bridge in the Sierra Madre Occidental (occidental mountain range) and part of the Mazatlan-Durango Highway, is the world's highest suspension bridge and is recognized as such by Guinness World Records. Mazatlan-Durango Highway is part of a much more ambitious project, linking the ports of Mazatlan on the Pacific and Matamoros on the Gulf of Mexico. In facilitating overland communications between the Pacific and Atlantic, it will improve access to hundreds of towns in nine Mexican states: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas.
The four-lane Baluarte Bridge, with a total length of 1.124 metres supported by 152 steel cables, is suspended over 402.6 metres with a distance of 520 metres at its core. The bridge is the ‘architectonical gem’ of the Mazatlan-Durango Highway. Its construction began in June 2007 and that of the highway in January 2001, which is expected to be concluded in October 2012.
The project involves the construction of a 230km highway, of which 160km is complete. It includes 61 tunnels (the longest, the Sinaloa, is nearly 3km) and 54 other structures such as bridges and viaducts, covering 90km .The Mazatlan-Durango highway records an advance of 80 per cent and an expense of 1.3bn of the approximated 1.5bn dollars that were allocated to the project.
The work completes the modernization of the trunk road which crosses the Sierra Madre Occidental and five northern states of the country, from Mazatlan in the Pacific to Matamoros on the Gulf of Mexico.
This area is characterized by rugged terrain, with mountain ranges and deep canyons between the states of Durango and Sinaloa. The Baluarte Bridge is located in the ‘Devil's Backbone’ mountain range on the junction of the highway and the Baluarte River. Its construction overcame challenges and adversity that involved an intricate crossing of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Some 12,000 tons of reinforcing steel and 90,000 metres of hydraulic concrete were used in its construction. It was built by 1,500 Mexican workers and engineers.
The highway will form the shortest route for the transportation of goods from the Asia-Pacific region to the largest market in the world, the United States. Today the only route from one ocean to the other is the Canal de Panama, which in optimal conditions takes 18 hours. Once the highway is complete the journey will take 12 hours. The savings in travel time of the highway crossing the Sierra Madre Occidental to the existing road will be 3.5 hours, and 75km shorter.
The Baluarte Bridge will reduce travel time between Mazatlan and Durango cities to approximately six hours for freight traffic, with a daily capacity of 2,000 vehicles. The project will encourage trade with the US and will boost the country's strategic importance in the global economy. It will also provide a direct connection with the north-eastern region of the country with the Pacific coast, which will stimulate trade and tourism in the region and will benefit more than one million inhabitants in the municipalities of Mazatlan and Concordia in Sinaloa state, as well as the city of Durango. It will also encourage the development of the port of Mazatlan, and tourism in adjoining states.
The Baluarte Bridge has met the challenge freeing communities from isolation caused by vast distances and will result in schools, hospitals and jobs. It will enable the supply of raw materials to businesses and the enlargement of their markets, as well as promoting economic development as a mechanism for contributing to security.