Providence, Guatemala City sign sister city agreement

Mayors Elorza, Arzú focus on promoting trade, cultural exchange between two cities

Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 2016

A visiting delegation from Guatemala City met with Providence officials Wednesday to sign an agreement that will formalize economic and cultural exchange between the two cities. The signing of the agreement on the first day of the summit marked the beginning of intensified efforts to increase trade and cooperation between the now-sister cities.

Providence is home to more than 21,000 residents of Guatemalan descent, as well as the Guatemalan Consulate for the New England region, according to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and a press release from the mayor’s office. The sister city agreement will allow for Providence to become the natural gateway from Guatemala to New England.

“We have a number of cultural and economic ties that already exist,” Elorza said. “We have that foundation, and we want to build off it.”

The foreign delegation was led by the mayor of Guatemala City, Álvaro Arzú, who is also the former president of Guatemala and is renowned for his work spearheading the Guatemalan peace process 20 years ago.

Efforts for exchange between the two cities will include the pursuit of direct flights between Providence and Guatemala City and possible increased use of Providence’s port, Elorza said. “We are investing in and looking to expand our port,” he said.

Following the official signing ceremony on Wednesday, officials from Providence and the Guatemala delegation met Thursday morning to begin a summit between small businesses in Guatemala City and distributors in Providence. The vendors, many of whom are part of a collective called Guate a Mano, displayed various wares and designs as samples for distributors.

Given Providence’s historical textile legacy and the evolution of the textile industry in Guatemala, there are numerous opportunities for craftspeople and designers in Providence and Guatemala City to collaborate, said Stephanie Fortunato, director of the Providence Department of Art, Culture and Tourism. Preserving cultural heritage and promoting sustainability concern the industries in both cities.

“We want to start to sell these in the U.S.,” said Claudia Dougherty, one of the founders of grete knitwear, who hails from Guatemala. Grete knitwear currently sells blankets on Amazon and hopes to expand by finding distributors at the summit.

“This is a small family business,” Dougherty said. “We have our baby products and our knits, and we know there are many possibilities in Providence and the U.S. for our products.”

Through commerce, Providence distributors may augment cultural exchange between Providence and Guatemala.

“Our company is about producing products that are 100 percent Guatemalan,” said Roberto de la Fuente of Clio’s Food Craft. Clio’s Food Craft products include infused honey, roasted coffee and other regional products. “We’re trying to promote sustainability for rural areas in our country,” he added. The company would like to pursue direct contact with costumers in the United States whenever possible in order to avoid going through trade middlemen.

“It’s all about putting Guatemala on the map,” said Augusto Castillo de Ros, a handbag designer for his brand, Augusto Castillo. “It would be great to find a distributor or someone interested in representing the brand here in the states.”

In his opening remarks at the beginning of the summit, Elorza elaborated on the virtues of the educational and culinary systems in Providence. He listed Brown, the Rhode Island School of Design and the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University as potential centers for educational exchange.

“There’s also a culinary exchange,” Elorza said of the possibility of involving Johnson and Wales. “We have a strong culinary scene; they have a strong culinary scene.”

“There are students already studying both in Providence and Guatemala City,” Fortunato said. “That can be strengthened by engaging more faculty who might have connections in their research and their scholarship.”

The summit also includes an archaeology panel Friday at the John Carter Brown Library and a Guatemalan cooking class at Hotel Providence. It will culminate Saturday in an Artisano Expo, a separate event that will allow Guatemala-based businesses to showcase their goods and services.

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