Lauren's adventure in Ecuador

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Politics as (un)usual

What a day not to have my camera with me. Quito was absolute chaos. The congress here is completely corrupt, and the people are tired of it. Usually congress members aren’t politicians, lawyers, or anything of the like. Instead, they are television personalities and other members of society who have celebrity status for one reason or another. They are VERY well paid by Ecuadorian standards, but what do they do to deserve this $3,800 a month? Interestingly there are no checks and balances within the different branches of government, and therefore, the congress has its autonomous power to do whatever it wants. For instance, the congress recently breached a constitutional law when they decided to re-instate a notoriously corrupt man as the “fiscal”. The constitution states that 1) the fiscal must be elected from a group of three highly qualified people, and 2) a fiscal can never serve the position more than once. This fiscal who was recently appointed, Cucalon, has served as fiscal in the past, and surprise, surprise, he wasn’t elected this time among two other candidates. Error numero uno of the congress. The second error, and that which incited the Ecuadorian public, occurred last night. The Ecuadorian public has been asking for ages for a raise of $10 for the lowest paid laborers of society. The congress decided that $10 a month was just too much and that $4 was more reasonable. Fine. What did them in was their simultaneous decision to raise their own salaries $1,000 a month to $4,800! And who can stop them? Nobody. The interesting part is that Rafael Correa, the new president, voluntarily decided to halve his own salary. Usually presidents in Ecuador make $8,000 a month. He decided that this was unjust in such a poor country and decided to pay himself $4,000. He also included a clause with this decision, however, that states that nobody in a public office can earn more than or equal to his salary. Hmnn. This leaves the congress where then exactly? The congress has enraged the public, breached the constitution, and put themselves at odds with the president. Brilliant.

In light of their decision to stuff their own pockets while allowing the majority of Ecuadorians to live in poverty, the people took to the streets. And I, being the political science student, was just dying to observe. So we went to the protest to see what all the hullabaloo was about. There were literally masses of people screaming, waving banners, chanting vulgarities, throwing eggs at the congress building, violently fighting the police, and escaping the tear gas when it finally came. I am really dangerously nonchalant about tear gas now, which is probably bad. The congress was in session inside the building, but all of the members fled through the back door when they realized their lives were in serious danger. What started out as a peaceful protest slowly evolved into an anarchic, irate display of lawlessness. At this point we decided to call it a day, and it’s a good thing we did.

I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The congress had defied the people and the president. The people were fighting each other, and what was it really all about? $60,000 a year. Would this sum cause complete chaos and anarchy in the U.S.? I don’t think so. But it’s not just about the money. It’s about a system of corrupt “politicians” who have ruled the country for years. It’s about poverty. It’s about a polar divide in society. It’s about not trusting a single member of the government or police. It’s about living off of less than $2.00 a day.

So I got to thinking. What exactly would be the problem with installing a dictatorship here? What would be the benefits and drawbacks? In all honesty, democratic governance has not been effective here on the whole. How can it be when the congress is as corrupt as they come? I honestly can understand why many people would opt for a dictatorship. The president could dissolve the congress, clean up the nation, and try to start anew with democracy in a few years after giving the nation the heavy hand that it needs maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is that prior to coming here I didn’t ever know the reality of a truly faulty democracy. I think as Americans we automatically assume that democracy is best because it’s our system and it works rather well for us and has for generations. After living this reality, however, I can honestly say that I’d rather support an effective dictatorship that a completely corrupt democracy. But what if Ecuador turns into a dictatorship? Tourism will likely come to a standstill, and many people will suffer in their businesses. More people will starve. Ecuador will lose international support, and the U.S. will likely enforce an embargo. What is Ecuador to do? Should they reform the country and rid the nation of corruption while simultaneously potentially alienating themselves from the United States and other major world powers? Who would this really be helping if Ecuadorians would just be more adversely affected? Would it cause more poverty? They're stuck between a rock and a hard place as they battle with choosing between the worse of two evils.

This situation has made me realize how important it is to thoroughly investigate foreign news because in the U.S., our news is limited, and we sometimes only hear the end result of foreign affairs. In the case that Ecuador turns into a dictatorship, U.S. citizens would likely only hear how Ecuador is a dictatorship and nothing more. What we wouldn’t be told in the news is that the congress was highly corrupt and made unconstitutional decisions that negatively affected the country. As a student and tourist I probably would opt to travel somewhere else. As a north American, the word “dictator” scared me. But now I can really see the value in complete political control in a developing nation.

I will leave you with a thought in light of today’s events. Is it better to have an open, democratic, but corrupt government, or a dictatorial, but efficient government? We’ll find out soon I suppose.

(I forgot to add that I saw Correa in his armed car today. It passed me on the street just by chance, and I couldn’t get over how he had the window down. That’s very trusting. I waved at him and got “the nod”. I usually hate “the nod”, but this was the best nod ever! I don’t think Bush would ever drive through the streets to see how the public was really living.) Buenas noches a todos.


Blogger Kelli said...

I just watched Motorcycle Diaries and the same sort of gap between the poor and the rich was featured in the film. I can't remmeber if they did anything specifically in Ecuador, but the whole situation is terrible. It's as bad in most countries of Africa, too, unfortunately... certain African countries can also show the damage dictators can do, like mass murders or completely destroying the economy in the case of Mobutu in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo).

5:31 PM  

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