Discovering Ecuador

Land, People, History, and Life

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Organizing meetings in Cañar are day long events.  We spend the morning on the history of oppression of the Cañari people, the building of the indigenous movement and the rights won in communities.  We then head out for a collective lunch or Pambamesa.  The afternoon is focused on understanding the needs and concerns of the community and beginning to draft a work Agenda. Organizing Day ends with music and dance.  

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Top shows a home built by migrant next to traditional homes.  The last two pictures show the road and landscape of my daily commute.  

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Life and Organizing in Ghun, Cañar Ecuador

Life in the communities of Cañar Ecuador is an adventure, a challenge and lots of learning.   I am having a wonderful time discovering the community I live and work in.  

I am living in a ¨Casa de Migrante¨ — a house built by a migrant that left this community and is now living in the United States or Spain, where most folks have migrated.  As many other migrants in this area, they send money each month to have a house built in planning for their return.  In addition to holding a dream of returning back home, most of these migrants build these homes and buy land for their parents so they can have a place to grow food and raise small farm animals (Cuyes, Sheep, Cows). About half the homes are empty or partially used.  Each home costing about $100,000 to build.  These houses in the community are a topic of some controversy, some wonder will the migrants who left and are building these homes, ever come back to enjoy the fruits of their labor or will they remain empty? Others wonder how big will the homes get since there is a sense of competition and desire by migrants to demonstrate their success abroad.  As more homes are built, the landscape becomes green mountains surrounded by an array of colorfully large homes, amongst smaller brick traditional homes.   Are these homes a problem that needs to be addressed?  Yes is the answer by some and No by others, this is part of the new conditions in an ever changing community.   A possible issue of interest to organize around is collectivizing remittances and investing in larger community projects instead of individual homes.  A very controversial issue for families, community and broader migrant movement work.
— SCROLL to last paragraph for focus of organizing work.    
My commute is an hour hike up the mountain to the main road and it feels its an hour hike back up on the way back home, it is hills so there is partial ups and downs each way.  It is quite a workout.   I believe this will help me get in shape for my many climbing and hiking goals this coming year.  Because the house is barely lived in, there is still no shower, I am working on mastering the old fashioned way to bathe and the way I bathe growing up, heating water and using a bucket to wash.  Water is scarce in the evenings, so I have to get better at collecting water in the morning to use in the evenings.  One day I ran out of water completely and it was hard to cook or get much done.  It is incredible how much I have taken and I imagine most of us take for granted water.  It has made me more aware of environmental justice work and the need to preserve the right to free access to consumable water.  
The community is patriarchal and led by elders.  As I walk through the community with leaders, I get introduced mostly to the men in the community and barely introduced to women.   Though many women will come up to me and introduce themselves.  Women are organized, politicized and have their own meetings, which at times are dominated by some of the male leaders.  My work with women is mostly one on ones and meeting them at their homes or up the mountain where they keep their animals and grow their crops.   Most the meetings were decisions are made….participatory budgeting (still a work in progress and I need to learn more about it), community projects and political decisions are dominated by men.  On Sunday, I went to a meeting of the local political party, it was 90% men.   
What is amazing is the deep organizational structure that exists between political and social organizations.  There are national, provincial, and local community groups organized that feed into each other and can move a national political agenda.  Of course, it is not without its challenges, over the last few years the local communities have divested from the groups and there is a need to organize at the base.  In addition, the indigenous political party, Pachakuti, is very divided as some have joined the current political party in power, Alianza Pais…the party of the current government, where Rafael Correa was recently re-elected president.   Rafael is a very controversial figure, as anyone who challenges the status quo and promotes a citizen revolution would be.  While his government stands strong as an anti-imperialist government, has improved health care, education and national infrastructure, he is at great odds with the mostly indigenous community on issues of land and the environment.  His vision to strengthen Ecuador´s economy does not necessarily protect land and environment.  He also has a zero tolerance stance on mass demonstrations, protesters calling to an end of oil drilling, new pipelines that will cut through communities or students protesting university policies have been arrested under laws which consider demonstrations and civil disobedience terrorist acts.  These are some the contradictions bubbling up as the country moves through a process of deep change and transformation. 
The issue that is rising to the top as a focus of the work I will be doing is creating an irrigation system to support agricultural work in the communities.  During the summer months the land is very dry and watering crops and giving animals water becomes difficult, leaving many families without an ability to increase their production of food for their own consumption or to sell.  The government has mostly focused on making consumable water accessible to all communities, but agricultural water needs have been ignored.  This issue begins to get at the need to create conditions that help communities and families increase their capacity to be economically self sufficient.  Other issues of work include focusing on addressing the trafficking of migrants and working to end the large network of traffickers that help people migrate to the exterior.  Each individual pays anywhere from $10,000 -$20,000 to buy their way to the USA.  Its a very profitable business and community leaders feel there is a push to get people to migrate.   Another topic that sparks great conversation is culture and what leaders are beginning to call the decolonization of people´s minds.  The Cañari people have a long history of colonization and resistance from the Inca, Spaniards, Ecuadorian Mestizos to US influence and control of ideas, resources and people.  Leaders of the communities want to preserve the Cañari culture through music, dance, food, dress and language.  As well as engage in a process that will liberate peoples minds and spirit to see themselves as leaders, owners, and innovators of ideas, work, businesses, organizations and culture. (Martha Harnecker talks about the importance of focusing on culture as Left organizations in her book Rebuilding the Left as nations move towards a homogeneous culture led through US influence — Its a great book, highly recommend it).  My work the next 5 weeks will focus on continuing to listen to the needs in the 13 communities that are part of ZHAMUY, the organizational group I am partnering with and identify the focus of work in this first phase of Alianza Migrante entre Ecuador y Estados Unidos (AMEE).  

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Support Ecuador USA Migration Alliance

Saludos from Ecuador.  As many of you know I came to Ecuador five months ago, to do organizing work.  It had been a dream of mine for years and here I am organizing migrant families and communities.  I am working in a community called Zhud, located in Cañar Ecuador, the province with the highest incidence of migration in Ecuador.  My goal is to build an alliance with organizing groups in Ecuador and NYC to transform the underlying causes of migration.  I am excited about this new organizing endeavor and now I am writing to get you involved.  I need your support to help community leaders in Ecuador participate in the 5th World Social Forum on Migration; the forum will be the groundwork for leaders of Zhud to understand and deepen the economic, political and social impacts and causes of migration; and to build with other groups globally. I am asking each of you to help support the development of this project.  Donate Now

 While many groups in NYC continue to do the amazing and often challenging work of attaining economic and social justice for migrants in NYC, I want to increase global organizing efforts that focus on eradicating root causes of migration.  The Ecuador – NYC alliance will work on three fronts in the next five years: 1) Politically – Organizing to challenge neo-liberal policies, like free trade agreements or in Ecuador´s case, the dollarization of the country, which lead the largest exodus of people in the country, 2 Million people migrated in 1999-2000, the year the country was dollarized; and organizing with the Ecuadorian government to keep pushing the US and other receiving countries to implement more just migratory laws.  2) Economically – The Zhud community will focus on creating jobs through small businesses, such as increasing tourism in the community, selling local goods (medicinal plants, artisan goods, small animals), holding local and national government accountable for increasing jobs and promoting local consumption of goods. 3) Socially – Organizing to improve public education, creating a community center that focuses on tackling the impacts of migration, like increased alcohol abuse, gang activity, disintegration of families, through promoting the principles, knowledge and traditions of the Cañari, which focus on collectivity, sustainability of the earth and humanness.  In order to begin this important work in Ecuador I need your help.  Donate Now

TO DONATE by credit card go to PayPal account Donate Now

Make Checks To: Zhamuy, c/o Angelica Otero, 48-07 98 Street, Corona, NY 11368.

If you have thoughts on foundations I can approach to attend the forum and for the long-term development of the NYC-Ecuador Migration Alliance, please send me the information.  Thanks.

 I do miss you all.  I will be in NYC at the end of October, hope to see you or at least chat then. 

 Lots of love, Angelica

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Organizing Prospects

It has been almost a month since I arrived in Ecuador.  Mostly I have spent the time feeling sad and missing home.  This is the first time in all my travels that I miss home so much.   I fear that I will not make it more than 2-3 months here.  Though, I am trying to move past the emotions.  I sit and meditate each day and remind myself of my inner longing to be here.  I will continue to stay present, there is a reason I came here, if nothing more than to realize how much I love the home I have built for myself in New York.  In the midst of all this sadness, there is lots of exciting news and developments to share.  Below I share organizing possibilities I am undertaking and some of the fun activities I have engaged in so far.  In my next blog, I will share a brief political analysis of Ecuador´s Revolución Ciudadana, Ecuador´s approach to 21st Century Socialism.  Send you all mucho amor y fuerte abrazos.  Angélica Maria

ORGANIZING

I have spent my time meeting with organizations and groups that do organizing and community work.  There are two main projects I am exploring.  

Migration in Cañar

The first initiative I am exploring is doing organizing work with community members in a small town near Cuenca called Cañar.  I will be engaging in this initiative in collaboration with FLASCO, the Latin American University for Social Sciences, the local government of Cañar and local community based groups.  FLASCO (See Website: http://www.flacsoandes.org/) is doing a 5-year study asking the question, ¨Can migration contribute to the local development of a country? ¨  The methodology of FLASCO is action-based research, so while the 5 year study is taking place FLASCO´s goal is to build the capacity of local groups to face the impacts of migration.  While FLASCO has begun some dialogue with groups there is a need for organizing capacity, which is the work I hope to focus on.   New York is home to a large number of immigrants from Cañar, Ecuador.  In my conversations with NY based organizing groups I became very interested in understanding the social, political and economic conditions that lead people from Cañar to migrate.  I am just beginning to gain some understanding.

Between 1999-2000 Ecuador experienced a shocking economic crisis.  The Sucre, Ecuador´s previous currency was devalued from 5,000 per dollar to 25,000 per dollar, it was in that depreciated state that the government decides to dollarize the country.  This bankrupts people´s life savings and causes thousands of business to go under, creating a huge influx of employment.  During this economic crisis Ecuador experiences the largest exodus of people that any Latin American country has every experienced, of the 13 million people living in Ecuador 2 million migrate to the US, Europe and some neighboring countries (Larrea, 2009)[1].  Many of these people originate from the province of Azuay where Cañar is located. 

The goals and focus of this organizing work will be defined as I meet with leaders of organizations in Cañar and leaders of organizations in the United States.  There is some initial thinking to form alliances between both countries.  I will be in Cañar this week to meet with an indigenous women´s group that came together after their husbands migrated to the U.S.  and I will meet with faith based leaders in the region to begin to identify goals.  Based on some initial conversations with both Cañar and N.Y.C groups, the initiative could focus on some of the following: 1) Building a network of solidarity groups between Ecuador and the USA; 2) Creating spaces for dialogues on immigration; 3) Supporting organizing work in Ecuador that holds the state accountable to create conditions for migrants to return back home or create conditions for people to stay; 4) Supporting the creation of cooperatives focused productive remittances.  This last goal is interesting and controversial, here is an article based on a program in Zacatecas, Mexico that pools immigrants remittances to their home country to focus on local community projects.  It begins to show the challenges of a project called Tres por Uno, collective remittances. http://www2.colef.mx/migracionesinternacionales/revistas/MI12/n12-165-172.pdf

Pacha Coaching

The second project I am looking into is supporting a new initiative called ¨Pacha Coaching. ¨ Using my learning’s from Social Justice Leadership, I will form part of a team that does organizational and leadership development for Pachamama partner organizations.  Pachamama (see website: http://pachamama.org.ec/), is an organization that was founded 15 years ago to preserve Ecuador´s Amazon and do consciousness raising in the U.S.  In Latin American, the organization is focused on making demands of the state to invest in alternatives to petroleum and mining.  They were key in moving Ecuador´s government to include the earth as entity that has rights in the constitution (the only country which has made this move).  Bolivia and other countries have publicly shared that the earth, called Pachamama, has rights but have yet to get it passed constitutionally.  Pachamama´s  U.S. partner is based in California (See Website: http://www.pachamama.org/).  The US counterpart focuses on teach-ins to educate and challenge US citizens on their consumption-based practices and help youth understand the link to the Amazon and sustainable practices. Pachamama works with over 70 groups in Ecuador and Latin America and they would like to support strengthening their partner groups in order to grow and strengthen the environmental movement work in Latin America.  The group is really interested in Somatics based coaching as a method for transforming practices of leaders and organizations (See website: http://www.generativesomatics.org/). 

FUN IN ECUADOR

Last week I hiked up Rucu Pichincha, which is one of the peaks of the Pichincha Volcano that borders the city of Quito, at 4,698 meters (15,413 ft).  We hiked up nearly 2,000 meters in four hours.  At the summit, I layed out and took a two-hour nap, since I got up at 5am to do the hike.  The view of the city was phenomenal, unfortunately I did not have my camera, but will post pictures from my phoneJ

Over the weekend, I went out to see Ecuador play Argentina in the elimination games towards the World Cup in 2014.  I love watching soccer games in Latin America, they are so animated and energetic, though Ecuador lost terribly to Argentina 4-0, we had fun.  After the game, I stayed at bar to dance, which was lots of fun and met a cute guy. 

The previous weekend I went to the beach with my cousins.  We went to a beach called Monpiche, which is about a 5-hour drive from Quito.  This trip made me feel really home sick.  It was great to see my uncle; his wife and my cousins interact with each other.  There was so much love and closeness.  Though it made crave very much partnership, having my own children and my family and friends back home.  Also met a cute guy, but so far no prospects for a long-term relationship. 


[1] Larrea, Gustavo. Revolución Ciudadana.  Ecuador junio del 2009, pp. 42-43.  

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Why this Journey?

Soon, I will leave to Ecuador to begin exploring the possibility of living there and organizing back home.   This has been a tough decision to make, while in my gut it feels right and it’s been my dream for some time now; somewhere in telling everyone I care about of this decision– my heart is no longer sure.  So it is with mixed feelings that I leave the U.S. for the next six months. I am excited about everything I will learn and the experiences I will have and I am scared of both failing and succeeding.   

I went to Ecuador often as a teen, but it was not until I was in my twenties that I began to appreciate the country.  I remember waking up in the mornings and walking in the city and seeing four different snow capped volcanoes surround the city.  I fell in love.  I remember when I returned to the US telling one of my good friends, how I would love to live in Quito?  He asked why? “It’s hard to explain, but I love how I feel when I am there, the smells of the different foods, the sounds in the air, the people, natural fruit juice in the mornings, the afternoon meal followed by a nap, late walks after dinner, I just love it.”

Four years ago, I travel through Latin America, what I most remember were the relationships with individuals, there is a way in which people are open, close to one another and depend on each other to get through life — creating a beautiful sense of interdependence. During this trip four years ago, I began to experience the transformation that South America is undergoing politically.  I had a glimpse of something exciting that I wanted to be part of. 

Two years ago, I went to Peru, during that trip I was on a ten day hike from one ruin, Choquequirao, to another ruin, Machu Pichu.  I remember that on one of the most difficult days of the trip, ascending over 1,500 meters after 6 days of walking along the Vilcabamba Trail, I sat down and looked around at the snow peaks, and thought this is home, I felt that I had found my roots. I could feel the spirits of my ancestors and the land that fed and bore my family.  I knew that I needed to return to South America. 

Last year, I traveled to Cuba and I remember telling one of the women on the trip that I love the person that I am when I am in a Latin American country.  I come alive in ways that I often feel are opaque when I am in the U.S.A.  For these reasons, I now have decided to go on this journey to Ecuador.

The movement work I am interested in doing, focuses on the increased migration of Ecuadorians to the United States.  Between 2000-2008 over 140,000 Ecuadorians migrated to the U.S. compared to 6,400 between 1950-1959.  Each year the percentage of Ecuadorians leaving Ecuador and moving to the US continues to increase.[i]   According to groups in NYC, the majority of Ecuadorians are from the province of Azuay, from the cities of Cuenca, Cañar and Biblian.  [ii]  I am curious to understand why the increased migration from this particular region. 

What I have learned so far about Cuenca and immigration patterns is that Cuenca is ranked the number one place to retire by International living magazine.  There about 5,000 expatriates from the US living in this city.  Ecuador has liberal immigration policies that grant residency to anyone over 65 with a pension of at least $800 a month.  As a resident, people can join Ecuador’s social security system, which is only $50 per month.[iii]  It seems this increase of foreigners is pricing people out of market property in their own country.  Some of the questions I have include: 1) Is Cuenca going through Gentrification, if so how quickly?  2) How does this immigration policy support Ecuador’s economy? 

According to some of the groups organizing in the US, the majority of people migrating to the US are adult men and women.   I am interested in learning more about the effects on the community, when thousands of children are being left alone to be raised by grandparents or aunts, when parents move to the US in the search of work and improved economic conditions to support their family.  Understanding that this reality is nothing new, many parents around the world leave their children in the search for work, I want to get closer this issue and understand the long term effects in one particular region.

Overall, I am interested in focusing on immigration and immigration reform from the perspective on sending countries.  Since Ecuador is home to my family I want to begin here. 

I look forward to sharing with you all my experiences over the next six months.  Ask me questions and give me feedback along the way.  I love to think with others, so it would be great to know your thoughts. 



[i] Ecuadorians in the U.S. Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

[ii] Based on conversations with organizers and leaders from NICE, MRNY, and Vamos Unidos.  

[iii] Going Gently: Ecuador Retirement Capital.  The Economist. January 2012.

(Source: economist.com)