AURORA | El Salvador wants to add a consulate in the Denver area, and this week marks multiple efforts by Aurora civic leaders to make sure that consulate doesn’t end up going to the big-sister city to the west.
After welcoming members of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly to meet with Police Chief Nick Metz this past week, city leaders will sign a pact with Aurora Sister Cities’ new Salvadoran Friendship City of Antiguo Cuscatlán during a reception Friday, Aug. 19, in the lobby of city hall.
The flurry of activity comes after months of planning by Mayor Steve Hogan and other city leaders to take an opportunity to add another sister city and turn it into an opportunity to snatch a development away from Denver.
Hogan traveled to El Salvador in May as part of Aurora’s outreach in building ties between the city and political leaders in the Central American nation. Despite a prevailing spirit of regional cooperation between the Front Range’s municipalities, Hogan candidly said the chance to win the consulate away from Denver was a factor in the decision to go to El Salvador.
“The assumption is that (the consulate)’s going to be Denver,” Hogan said at an April 30 council workshop. “So what our international initiatives people had heard and our Sister Cities people had heard was that there’s an opportunity to do something that Denver would like to do. And very frankly, we can take something out from under the nose of Denver.”
Hogan later said Aurora has no intention at the moment of making Antiguo, which is part of the metropolitan area of San Salvador, an official sister city.
“There would have to be an awful lot more work done before council would even consider it for a sister city status,” Hogan said, noting Aurora City Council would have to formally approve such an agreement. Aurora currently has sister city agreements with Seongnam, South Korea and Adama, Ethiopia.
But he said the move is one that reflects the significance of Aurora’s Salvadoran population, which numbers slightly less than 2,5000 according to the City of Aurora’s 2016 demographic report, which uses data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey. According to the report, Aurora residents from El Salvador make up the city’s third-highest population of foreign-born residents, sitting behind only Ethiopia and Mexico.
Ward IV Councilman Charlie Richardson had initially raised concerns about Hogan’s trip due to the use of Aurora police officers for security during the trip, arguing that an international security escort should have been sought given the high crime rate in El Salvador. Ward I Councilwoman Sally Mounier echoed Richardson’s concerns, urging Hogan to “sleep with one eye open.”
“This is not a great place for safety,” Mounier said. Hogan returned from the May trip without incident.
At-Large Councilman Bob LeGare likened the reputation El Salvador had due to its crime rate was not unlike image problems that Aurora has experienced.
“I don’t have a picture in my mind of the entire country being a corrupt, gang-banging … well, you hear that all the time about Mexico,” LeGare said, with Hogan and Ward V Councilman Bob Roth both interrupting to interject, “You hear that all the time about Aurora!”
“That’s exactly my point,” LeGare continued. “What we’re doing around this table is applying to El Salvador exactly what other areas of the metro area apply to Aurora. ‘Oh, you wouldn’t want to go there. You’d get shot and gang-murdered.”
Ward VI Councilwoman Francoise Bergan voiced concern that a relationship with that area of Central America might invite a criminal pipeline to the city.
“I think the problem with San Salvador was the image of cartels and maybe that would encourage them to come to Aurora,” Bergan said. “I think thre was that perception out there.”
Hogan defended the efforts during the April 30 workshop in saying that “we can’t say we’re an international city unless we act like an international city,” and that Aurora has the second-largest Salvadoran population in the entire state.
But the prospect of beating Denver on landing El Salvador’s planned Colorado consulate still seemed like a key factor as Hogan explained the thought process.
“I’m just sick and tired of being second to Denver in everything,” Hogan said. “I’m really tired of being second to Denver in everything. We are the most international city in Colorado and we ought to do something about it.”
Hogan later said he wanted the friendship with Antiguo to be a learning opportunity for Aurora.
“People think it’s not a safe place. If that’s all they know, there’s an education that needs to go on. The start of that process is a friendship city relationship,” Hogan said.
And though Hogan emphasized that the outreach to El Salvador was not technically an economic development deal, he noted the city would stand to reap financial gains from bringing a consulate to Aurora.
“If it gets established in Denver, everybody here is going to go to Denver,” Hogan said. “And while they’re in Denver they’re going to buy their lunch or buy their dinner or do whatever they do, and they’re going to spend money in Denver instead of Aurora.”
Staff writers Rachel Sapin, Brandon Johansson and Quincy Snowdon contributed to this report.