Oswaldo Betancort has served as the Mayor of Teguise, Lanzarote’s largest municipality, for eight years and commenced his third term at the head of the Ayuntamiento earlier this year, when he also won a seat as a representative in the Canarian parliament.
Billed from the start as a rising star in the Coalición Canaria, Betancort won his second absolute majority in a row in May. Shaun Addison spoke to him in the sumptuous colonial surroundings of the Palacio Spinola.
This is the third time you’ve been elected Mayor. Aren’t you getting tired of it yet?
Actually, I’m more excited than I’ve ever been. Things have changed a lot in eight years. When I came to power in 2011, the challenge was economic – we had to reduce debts. Now our main challenge is spending, and the need to build the infrastructure necessary for a modern tourist municipality.
You’re also serving as a deputy for Lanzarote in the Canarian Parliament. Is there a danger that you may be spreading yourself too thin?
I don’t think so. I’m only in Tenerife for two days out of every ten, and while I’m there I’m doing what I can to represent Teguise and bring benefits back to Teguise. For example, I’m demanding greater health services for the smaller islands such as Lanzarote. Currently, a heart attack victim needs to be flown to Gran Canaria for surgery, and we’d like facilities for that to take place here instead. Meanwhile, I’ve got a team here who are more than capable of looking after things.
Before May’s elections your party, the CC, controlled the Canaries, Lanzarote’s Cabildo and held far more influence and power than now. How are you finding things now that different parties are in charge?
It’s difficult, because they’ve refused lots of funding. We were counting on projects for the upkeep of Playa de Cucharas, a school, the sanitation infrastructure and a historical archive, but it’s all been withdrawn.
Is there an element of score-settling in this?
Of course. That’s what happens in party politics.
What projects will be completed in the near future?
In Costa Teguise, we’ll be finishing a football pitch at Calle Chafari as well as a civic centre near the Arenas School. There’s another civic centre being built at Las Caletas, and we’re going to renovate the Pirate Museum at the Castillo de Santa Barbara. That’s all going to happen in 2020, but we’ll also be spending a lot of money on resurfacing roads in Costa Teguise and modernising hotel facilities.
The collapse of Thomas Cook and the withdrawal of Ryanair’s bases has been a blow for tourism this year. How will Teguise address these issues?
I think 2019 will be seen as a “before and after” date for Lanzarote. The sun and beach model of tourism will no longer be as important, and we’ll be more interested in developing the island’s appeal as a sporting and cultural destination. The Villa de Teguise was chosen as one of the 20 prettiest towns in Spain earlier this year, and there’s a lot more that we’ve got to offer.
I’d highlight five events: the windsurfing championship at Costa Teguise; the Noche Blanca (White Night) in Teguise; the Famara Total trail run, a spectacular event which is really becoming popular; the Saborea Lanzarote Food Fair at the end of November and, of course, the Lanzarote International Marathon. But there’s much more…
You spoke out recently following the deaths of nine migrants off the northern shore of the island.
Teguise is the municipality where 90% of the boats have arrived, and all of the three major tragedies on our island, Los Cocoteros, Playa Bastián and Caleta de Caballo took place here.
It’s important to raise our voice about this.
What can be done?
First, we need a radar system that works, and can detect the boats in time to avoid tragedies. We’ll also need to improve relations with Morocco and work on dismantling the mafias that charge €2,000 for each person, with promises of a utopia at the other end.
Any news on the abandoned hotels in Costa Teguise?
It’s taken time, but we’ve freed up the planning regulations that means they can be developed. It’s already happening in a couple of places.
Another issue that has arisen recently is the arrival of electric scooters. What’s the council’s stance on these?
We’ve got no problem with the idea, but any company that operates in Teguise will have to pay for a licence, pay its taxes and comply with basic safety regulations. In this case, the company just dumped them on the streets. We’ve introduced a bye-law that means we can fine the company and withdraw the scooters if the fines aren’t paid and the scooters aren’t insured, and we can also fine dangerous drivers.
Spain’s election has failed to produce a firm result. Does the lack of a national government affect your work?
Of course it does. The government is responsible for the regional budgets, and without those, local institutions don’t know where we stand. We can’t make spending plans, and that means stagnation. Without clear budgets, the Canarian Government is forced to raise taxes, and that means less money to spend.
Do you have a Christmas message for our readers, Señor Alcalde?
I’d just say that I hope that the New Year brings work, which means good health; and union, which brings strength.