Juan Forero, noted correspondent for the New York Times in Latin America, published a three page article today, warning once again that democracy, along with more than half of the population of Latin America itself, is starving, wasting away to nothingness, struggling to survive.
Scholars and analysts of Latin American studies have recognized this disturbing trend for quite some time, as government after government, elected through democratic processes, have failed to deliver what the people are begging for-at the very least, the chance to lead fulfilling lives, free from fear, poverty, hunger and discrimination.
Although Forero’s main example comes from Perú and not Ecuador, he does readily note that the Andean region of Latin America, composed of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia continues to be the most volatile and the region with the highest level of inequality.
Even though Latin America is not the overall poorest region in the world, it does unfortunately boast the largest income gaps-the difference between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow, despite promises from democratically elected governments (and from promoters of democracy, like the US) that supporting a democratic political system would result in economic prosperity for all. At this juncture-the relationship between democracy and economic prosperity-is where the complications and contradictions begin.
About a month ago, I was asked to consider US human rights policy toward Latin America, in the context of democratization. In the course of doing this, I began to realize that Latin America had been promised economic prosperity, or at least a higher level of equality, if it consolidated its democratic system of governance.
In the context of human rights, this was essentially a promise that democracy would fulfill economic, social and cultural rights demands-alleviation of poverty, recognition of indigenous groups and languages, universal primary education, etc. However, democracy in its traditional form, or the rules of the political game, does not directly address these issues, but rather concentrates itself on the fulfillment of civil and political human rights, such as universal suffrage and equality of all people before the law.
While this set of rights is equally as important as the other, and quite indivisible I might add, they are not the rights for which Latin America is clamoring as of recent. While judicial systems still need to be strengthened and corruption weeded out, most Latin American citizens are more concerned with feeding themselves and their families. Here in Quito, a city that sits in a valley surrounded by beautiful, towering volcanoes and hills, the popular sector neighborhoods look down in envy from these very hillsides, onto the much wealthier and newer center-city.
About half of the population of Ecuador lives below the UN/World Bank-designated poverty line of $2.00/day income. An overwhelming percentage of these people come from the indigenous communities with which CDES works. It was these very same communities that overthrew two Ecuadorian presidents in the late 1990s and early 2000s because the economic situation continued to worsen, following the years of the oil boom.
Poverty increased, with people not just struggling to make ends meet, but also struggling to survive. At the same time, of course, the same oil boom that brought prosperity to the upper tiers of Ecuadorian society was also responsible for destroying many Amazonian indigenous lands and cultures, as Peter Lippman previously documented for AP.
It is no small task for CDES to work as an advocate for these groups, but recently other groups have also begun to emerge, demanding that current president Lúcio Gutiérrez and his government do something about their plight.
Notably, the retired and elderly population of Ecuador has been staging a hunger strike here in Quito for more than a week. As of yesterday, Ecuador’s social security administration agreed to raise the pensions received by these people by roughly 200%. However, that still means that the average retired Ecuadorian will receive only about $50.00 a month from his government-a figure which puts them squarely below the UN/World Bank poverty line. And, please keep in mind that that is the average.
So, CDES and the rest of the NGO world here in Ecuador continue to be faced with horribly difficult decisions-who to help and how.
Posted By Christina Fetterhoff
Posted Jun 24th, 2004