The sub-division of Santiago is a hot issue at year’s end

Photo: El Caribe

Those who had hopes President Danilo Medina would veto the bill that divides the city of Santiago could be soon disappointed. As of 26 December 2018, with the 10-day deadline looming for the bill that passed on 19 December, this had not happened. It is likely the end of year date was chosen so as to take advantage that people were more into partying than serious issues. The Constitution says if the bill is not observed or signed into law, it will become law just with the publishing by the Chamber of Deputies instead of the Presidency.

The bill has already met with the opposition of the top echelons of the business community. The Archbishop of Santiago, Monsignor Freddy de Jesús Bretón Martínez expressed his opposition saying that the split would bring chaos and anarchy to the modern city that is organized because of the joint efforts of social, business and city authorities.

Yet a minority is jumping with joy over the legislative approval of the separation of “West Santiago” from Santiago de los Caballeros, there are other sectors that see the division of the nation’s second largest city as a disaster-in-waiting. Some of the local teachers and so-called “popular leaders” held a press conference to announce that several civic sectors were overjoyed by the news of the congressional approval of the plan to divide the city. They said that the measure that separates Cienfuegos, El Ingenio and some 80 smaller communities from Santiago de los Caballeros was the result of 10 years of lobbying.

Nevertheless, in a meeting with Santiago Mayor Abel Martinez, other leaders, business and industrial community leaders told the mayor they totally reject the move to divide the city. The head of the Santiago Strategic Development Council, Juan Carlos Ortiz, called instead for all to work for common goals. The head of the Chamber of Commerce noted that cities in other countries that underwent sub-divisions are now reverting to their former status.

While there are obvious political maneuverings involved in creating a new municipal district, there are other, more important economic issues to consider. As reported in the El Caribe, the city of Santiago de los Caballeros could lose as much as 30% of its budget if the President signs off on this legislation. This is due to the fact that the area that would become the new municipality comprises about 33% of the population of Santiago, and according to the Municipal Law176-07 on cities and municipal districts, each district has to have a director and three councilmembers. The proposed West Santiago, with a population of over 200,000 would have an even greater number of council members than the city of Santiago.

The position of the Santiago Development Council is that the division would not solve problems but would create a great number of new problems: access to the municipal garbage site in Rafey; access to the Santiago Municipal Cemetery at El Ingenio and the water supply for the area would fall under the new authorities of Santiago West.

If the President does not veto the legislative bill that splits Santiago into two, the city government of Abel Martinez will lose an important revenue source, the Rafey garbage treatment center and the municipal El Ingenio cemetery. There is speculation a legal battle over the rights to these areas and services could be forthcoming. An estimated 33% of the 700,000 inhabitants of the city of Santiago would now fall under the to-be-created city government of Santiago West.

Several of those in opposition to the measure foresee legal battles looming on the horizon. According to Edwin Espinal Hernandez, Article 193 of the Constitution calls for territorial organization that leads to development and stability. Espinal notes that “everything points to the fact that rational decision making, in all aspects, was absent with the creation of Santiago West.”

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26 December 2018