Beat Goes On But Ecuadorian Economy Reeling

DSCN1351Quito    I had not visited Ecuador for three years. I sat for hours in the sparkling new airport that opened after my last visit or more specifically in the Airport Center across the street from the actual ticket counters, security, gates and airplanes. If modern airports have become shopping malls serviced by airplanes and runways, Quito has essentially built a mall across the walkway from their airport. There’s a patio. There are plenty of chairs and free Wi-Fi. There are many worse places in the wide world to spent hours waiting for a plane.

Walking through the main streets of the city near our hotel not far from the major park and Botanical Garden, everything seemed clean and well-ordered. The coffee shops were active and on the streets people bustled along in well-turned sport coats or high heels and big leather purses. Talking to friends, colleagues, and organizers we had worked with us on campaigns either in the United States or Ecuador or both, a more unsettling picture emerges.

This is not Venezuela where food riots have become almost daily occurrences and political and social unrest is intense, but nonetheless Ecuador at all levels is feeling the pain. One former political activist we knew well from our work on field operations in the last presidential campaign in Ecuador in describing the impact of the falling price of oil, remarked that 60% of the national budget was derived from oil revenues and even as the price moves towards the $50 per barrel that is essentially breakeven in the United States, Ecuador needs the price to hit $60 to $70 because of the extra cost of bringing their crude to the market. An organizer I had worked with at Casa de Maryland, back home now and working at a governmental ministry, told us that this year the budget of her department had been cut from $20 million to $6 million. Needless to say, the impact was devastating and the layoffs severe. She was surprised to still have a job!

Many don’t! An activist we knew, was now living at home. Her brother had lost his job with the state, and her sister in another job had her hours cut in half. An old friend, comrade and former organizer who had worked with us in Florida on our Walmart campaigns a decade ago, told me when he responded to my email and arranged to meet us for breakfast at the hotel that he would do his best to make it because “he was so busy.” When we met, I asked him what kind of jobs he was handling now that were keeping him so busy. “None,” came the surprising answer from my well-connected friend. He was hustling just to keep above water. A job in another country had mysteriously fallen through a week before. When I asked after his father, an elegant and sophisticated gentlemen, whom I admired and knew well and would have thought traveled smoothly in the upper class of the country, I learned he was also now unemployed and in danger of losing his home.

I worried that our members, many of whom depended on the “bono” or basic, cash welfare assistance that President Correa had raised unilaterally in the previous political campaign, might have seen that cutback. The answer from everyone we talked to was, “Not yet,” which was hardly reassuring. Higher oil prices had led to more robust economic projects, expanded public programs and public employment, and increased debt for Ecuador, both externally and internally. Like any bubble of sorts, the country, like Venezuela and smaller states like Louisiana, was caught still standing when the music stopped and everyone raised for a chair.

After the encouraging gains in many Andean countries where recent economic growth in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia had lifted education, citizen wealth, health, and living standards, one gets the sense that this is unraveling in a case study of what globalization gives, it then takes away. We met with two young doctors. They were originally from Honduras, but had trained for seven years in the vaunted Cuban healthcare system. They wanted to practice in rural areas where the need was greatest, but Honduras had no government program to support their work, so then ended up in Ecuador about 4 hours by bus from Quito. I asked them to rank the healthcare systems they knew and how the economic situation was impacting healthcare. Not surprisingly, they said of the three, Cuba was first, Honduras last, and Ecuador in-between. As for the economy, they were still getting paid, so at least that was something they said, but they could already see shortages starting to show up in medicine supplies.

Being forced to root for the price of a barrel of oil to go up just about says it all about the unsustainable economy we have built in the world.

DSCN1350

DSCN1349

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Hitting the Doors in Ecuador

organizer role plays

Quito  Every country is different, every city is different, and every community is different.  We start from there, and then we adapt what we have seen work in so many places and modify it to fit the circumstances and objectives of our organizing program.  No matter how many times I have done this, it still seems like a glorious miracle when we re-engineer the model, gas it up, put it on the streets, and once again see it work, which is exactly what I have been doing with Marcos Gomez from ACORN Canada over the last week.

In collaboration with Ruptura 25, we have fashioned the ACORN program we call “puerta a puerta y calle” – the “door-to-door and street” program for building contacts and commitments of support throughout the community.  Yesterday we put the organizers who are going to be our potential field managers in Carcelen, an area that our friends thought might be hostile.  Even on their rookie trip, the organizers did very well, so we’re on our way!  “Count-on-me’s” or “Cuenta Conmigo!” as we call them were signed by 10% of the visits almost.  Another 10% agreed to host house meetings (reunions en casa), and we had 25% of the visits rank as #1’s which is too high, but they will get more accurate as we go along.  It’s exhilarating!

In Quito “seguridad” or safety is a constant concern.  We have to navigate the visits through gates, bells, windows, and iron doors.  Multi-story buildings lead us to the house meeting program to build our organizing committees in buildings, much as we learned to do in Buenos Aires and Toronto.  We are pulling the organizers off the streets at 6PM as darkness closes in, so the schedule involves training, then street work among business and high traffic areas in the neighborhood to accelerate contacts on our 10-week timeline, and then four (4) hours puerta a puerta followed by the debriefing.

Some things change, but some things stay the same.  We may be posting the daily results on butcher paper with all the organizers names in our “territorio oficina,” as they call it here, but we’re also posting the daily totals on Google Drive, so other folks can see the results in a timely fashion.  We text back and forth to determine locations on the streets, which in much of our areas are letters and numbers (C-45 for example), rather than having names, particularly where the barrios began as informal squatting settlements.

Today we put out twenty (20) organizers to start the program, ready-or-not, in earnest in Quito Norte.  We made plans for expanding to Guayaquil yesterday.  Plans are moving for next week in Santo Domingo, the 4th largest city.  A trip to Manabi on the coast, will open another front.

Adelante!

Marcos Gomez going over the field plan

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail