Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ecuador Officials Visit City; Cities Find They Have a Lot in Common

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ecuador Officials Visit City; Cities Find They Have a Lot in Common

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey, County Line staff writer

Despite a language barrier, Green Cove Springs officials and a delegation from Ecuador launched into a rapid-fire exchange of information once they found common ground.

Apparently, road paving, sanitation, water quality and finding jobs for residents are challenges for government officials from Florida to the province of Orellana, Ecuador.

"I did want to come to the United States to have this unique opportunity to learn firsthand about you and have a cultural exchange," said Guadalupe Llori, the recently elected governor of Orellana, speaking through U.S. Department of State interpreter Hernando Soto.

Llori, who before being elected governor was mayor of its capital city, Puerto Francisco de Orellana, also known as Coca, said, "We need to exchange more about our different experiences and cultures. We are small but have many needs."

She was part of a three-member delegation visiting several U.S. states as part of the International Visitor Program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. They observed the election process and are meeting with a wide range of government and community leaders.

The other delegation members were Raul Ilaquiche, vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Kichwa Groups of Ecuador, and Denis Rodriguez, international editor of El Commercio, an Ecuadorean newspaper.

Of the U.S. presidential election, Rodriguez said he was not surprised by the winner -- in international circles, Bush was expected to win re-election, he said -- but was "struck by the level of [voter] participation."

"The winner was not the issue. We knew it from the beginning," he said, through the interpreter. "The sentiment of the American people is [for] safety and security . . . We like the foreign policy of President Bush and we thank you for it."

Green Cove Springs was included in the itinerary because Llori wants to establish sister city relationships for cities in her province. Such relationships, she said, cannot only help Ecuadorean cities with the nuts and bolts of improving communities, such as how to run landfills and water treatment plants, but how to build strong democratic traditions.

She said she and other Ecuadorean leaders are trying to be the "standard bearers of a new process of participatory democracy" and are determined to rid the country of rampant government corruption and lawlessness and improve people's lives.

Orellana, which was established in 1999, is resource-rich, with a wealth of oil under its ground, but the profits have not filtered down to the people. They are among the country's poorest and have an unemployment rate of 20 to 30 percent and lack basic services, Llori said.

"We need to give greater involvement to the civil society," she said, through the interpreter. …

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