In conversation with Mito Martis

I was heading into Price Smart when I ran into Mito Martis. He looked fabulous, dynamic and purposeful. I have been meaning to talk to him for a long time, about land development in Aruba. After all, he was Acting Director and later Director of the Government’s Land Administration with the Government of Aruba from 1980 to 1987. He must know a lot about the original designation of terrain and the plans for infrastructure.

When Martis left his government position in 1987, he went into the private sector and became Vice President Development and Construction for Sun Development Company N.V., “where he was actively involved in the design, development and construction of Tierra del Sol, a master planned community with a Robert Trent Jones II designed championship golf course, the Casa del Mar Beach Resort, Playa Linda and Costa Linda Beach Resorts.” I am quoting a press release from 2008.

He was also a very helpful friend and consultant to Divi Resorts during its expansion period. He had a lot of insight into the island’s land administration department and he became a much in demand, conciliary, a well-respected adviser. I am not saying it sarcastically. I am stating facts.

Martis went back to the public sector to become a government adviser, a grey eminence,  a powerful decision-maker who operates “behind the scenes,” during two terms of Minister Marisol Lopez Tromp as Minister of Education, Social Affairs and Infrastructure, after the 2001 and 2005 elections, where the MEP government took charge. He was picked as adviser to the young minister, because he was an old and trusted family friend, and he remained influential until 2008, when they parted ways and he went on to work in Cuba.

My point is that during those years, 2001-2008, he was closely involved with the development of Palm Beach, and when AVP came into power in 2009, Martis was no longer welcome.  He explains that he fell out of favor when the political scene shifted, but they must have loved him in Cuba because he became Senior Vice-President Development and Construction, of Leisure Canada Inc’s wholly-owned subsidiary Wilton Properties Limited, in Havana.

As soon as I saw him at the entrance to Price Mart, remember I have been meaning to talk to him for a long time, I asked: So, are you responsible for the congestion of Palm Beach? It was during your years in the office of Infrastructure that the center of gravity was diverted from Oranjestad to Palm Beach, don’t you think it should have stayed in town?

Martis refuted my allegations all together. They had a good vision, he said. They knew that every wrong move would kill town. They encouraged development but stipulated conditions in order not to hurt commerce in Oranjestad.

He told me the land across from the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino was originally designated for the construction of a convention center. A kind of joint venture, with all hotels in participation. But the good folks in town, at the Renaissance Aruba Resort rejected the idea, and then Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino said no, the Wyndham Aruba declined, they all decided to expand their own ballrooms, and made the idea of a central conference center on Palm Beach obsolete.

In search of plan B, a number of merchants showed up with commitment letter. One of them had a letter from Minister Watty Vos, committing terrain on Palm Beach. Vos was the minister of Public Works from 1994, so the letter might have been from that time. PS Minister Vos has been dead since 2001, yet a letter of commitment from a late minister was still binding after his departure.

Another merchant who regularly speak to spirit – I once spoke to princess D through that medium – showed up with a letter from Minister Tico Croes, who abandoned government in favor of academia in 2001.

Another old family friend with a history of development showed up and was granted a piece of the pie, but virtue of familiarity.

Thus the terrain across the high rise hotel was parceled to special few, with certain stipulations and restrictions, which were I understand ignored, and the result is what we see today. And I am not saying it is all bad!

Martis assured me that his department put in all restrictions and stipulations, for fear of killing town. The shopping malls on Palm Beach, Paseo Herencia for example, were prohibited from offering retail space, just dining and entertainment, but later the minister granted exceptions, and what you see is what you get.

If you check closely, Martis said before we parted, and read the terms of the land exploitation, you will see that none of the developers is following the original master plan conceived by the infrastructure team.

In Aruba it’s never what you know, it’s always who you know. That’s my spin, not his. In retrospect I should have also been standing in line at the time, but I was too busy having a great time, and had no time for business development.