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Saturday, December 31, 2016
On this the final day of 2016, I choose to salute perhaps the longest standing mayor of all, Rita Barberá who came to office in 1991 and served for 24 years, until her defeat in 2015. To have served for such a long time means that she had ample time to achieve some remarkable accomplishments for the city of Valencia, but also she had the time to make mistakes.
She died in 2016, just days after having been examined by the Supreme Tribunal, that might have led to an indictment for crimes committed in office. I think it was such a shame that a huge shadow hung over her head at the end.
What has moved me to write in her favor is that yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed myself, together with my wife at an installation that was all Rita, so I want to take a look at the way things were when we arrived in Valencia in 2000.
Madrid is the capital city of Spain, and Barcelona was the second most important city in the country. Valencia city was very much the poor step-child. It was the iniative of Rita to raise the profile of her beloved city through a number of publicity steps, which evidently were all taken in good faith. The objective was to attract tourism and business to the area, so that money spent to put Valencia on the map was expected to be recuperated eventually.
The first big event that she was successful in attracting was The America's Cup Race. For the city this was very costly and it completely changed how Valencianos saw their city. The port and the Mediterranean were at the back of the city rather than at the front. Normally any town or major city looks forward and out to sea. Not Valencia, but suddenly there was all this activity taking place at the port, which after all is next to the magnificent Malvarrosa Beach, so in our consciousness a major change took place.
To say that the city benefitted from all the publicity that surrounded that event is an understatement, and the event was successful. As an added benefit a dispute took place between a couple of competitors that extended the event and the publicity.
It was probably that event that led to the holding of The annual Formula 1 being staged here. Again, an event that generates massive publicity, but also generates massive cost to the host territory. After three or four years Valencia had to drop out as host, but again, Valencia was placed firmly on the map as a serious place to be.
Disaster struck with the economic downturn. That plunged countries around the world into chaos, including Valencia city which has been left with huge debts to clear without the economic impact from an increased travelling public and new major business coming into our community. She took the risk but good luck ran out, replaced by bad luck. We gambled and we both won and lost. Sometimes, that's life.
Shortly after arriving here in Valencia we visited the city zoo. We were appalled by what we saw. We also came to realize that we were not the only ones. Apparently many local Spanish people would be so upset by the treatment of the animals that they would leave the zoo and go straight to City Hall to scream at the mayor. How dare she treat animals in such a cruel manner, and in the names of the local residents.
Rita listened! She decided that the problem would be addressed, not with Band-Aids, but by building a world-class facility that would not even be called a zoo. Now, Valencia has a facility that is called "The BIOPARC" in which the animals are well cared for; in which they are free to roam about their enclosures to be themselves in conditions that mimic their own natural habitats, except that their space is limited to the facility rather than a whole country.
Yesterday was our third visit, on a perfect day, and while it is possible to see everything in one day I think most people want to take longer to just stay in one place for a long time to observe the various species. The very fact that we were all there generated good vibes. In spite of children running all over the place I never heard one cross word from the parents. People were super courteous to one another, and when the day was over we both agreed, what a nice day that was.
I think this is Rita's finest achievement. The animals win, and we the people can feel so much better that in a world where species are disappearing we are caring for our adopted friends, and we are doing it in a humane and caring way. I think to be someone who actually works there must mean that you have one of the very best jobs in the world.
It seems to me that on the Balance Sheet of Rita Berbera's life there is much more on the plus side than the minus. She has not been convicted of any crimes or misdemeanors, so she is innocent. In any event I prefer to remember her plusses. That's me, I always try to look on the bright side of life.
So, thank you Sra Barberá for all the hard work and dedication you have put into serving the people of Valencia. I am a foreigner but your many efforts have not been lost on me, and I'm so glad that you liked my "Obama" cap.
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