Diversity, Development, and Sustainability in the Andes

Quito, Ecuador

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Roque Sevilla and the Ecuadorian Example

A few weeks on from the exciting conclusion of Quito Summer 2012, we participants doubtless find ourselves reflecting on our experiences. "Is that because you just had to turn in a reflection assignment for a significant portion of the course grade," you ask? Hogwash, I don't believe it and neither should you. Up to now you've read first impressions of the Ecuadorian system, informative analyses of geography and policy, thoughtful praise, and incisive criticism. Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Ecuador and the Andes don't have some VAST challenges to surmount, as well as some seriously questionable politicking from President Correa on down.  

For example, my own research and experience (or a cursory glance at any major media outlet) paints a vivid yet all-too familiar picture: a president who rode into the Palacio del Gobierno on a swell of support from the poor and historically marginalized groups who were to receive, at long last, a seat at the negotiating table. Once in office, however, Mr. Correa surged ahead with his own agenda and about sidelining dissenting voices, attempting legal action against opposition media outlets and branding indigenous organizers as obstructionists who wished, above all, to frustrate Ecuador's entry into the 21st century. Almost overnight, those whose struggles Candidate Correa venerated had become political enemies whom President Correa vilified. What social and political strides indigenous organizations like CONAIE have made ring somewhat hollow when we consider the economic dimension: "Indigenous" and "Poor" are two demographic indicators with a strong correlation.  The country has problems, I don't mind telling you. But I'm going to tell a little story- one that, for me, put everything we had learned and seen into excellent perspective and provided an excellent bookend for the program. If you'd be so kind as to accompany me, or, as they say on the Presidential Palace tour "Sigan, por favor, tengan la bondad..."

...the afternoon had gone as many others before it-- fantastic lunch, museum tours, impromptu games of chicken against taxis in the Centro Historico with which Profe was none too impressed. We entered the magnificent Casa Gangotena boutique hotel just off the Plaza de San Francisco in the historic district and sat down for fresh jugo while we waited to meet our gracious host: Casa Gangotena's owner, one-time Quito mayor, and ecotourism magnate Roque Sevilla. Over juice, coffee, and hors d'oeuvres, Mr. Sevilla regaled us with tales of how his various ventures came into existence and what direction the ecotourism industry may take (turns out it is possible to run an eco-lodge where you never have to touch an insect.) He continued with a self-effacing account of the eruption of the Pichincha volcano just west of Quito during his tenure as mayor, and gave us the inside track on automobile admissions standards in Ecuador. 

Late in the conversation, over the course of giving answers to several of our questions, Roque turned to comparisons between this country and the United States. More specifically, he contrasted the sometimes bullheaded manner of the Correa administration with something a little bit more familiar to us: United States Politics. He couldn't understand, for the life of him, why a country whose people had been behind so many of the innovations that have made the last two centuries what they were suddenly seemed lost in a morass of stubbornness, can't-do spirit, and social movements that, once in motion, seemed to go nowhere. We brainstormed over the myriad reasons why Occupy Wall Street (or DC, or Oakland, or pick a city) had failed, or at least stalled. We contrasted the failure of the electric car due to political, industry and consumer inertia with Ecuador's ambitious plan for rising fuel efficiency standards. And we lamented the reluctance of many of our leaders to risk re-election by actually making the progress they avowedly believed in. And just then, something clicked in my head. For all of its many problems, the current mindset in Ecuador still seems to be that hey, we can get. stuff. done. Diversity actually seems like something that people (avowedly) appreciate, and really believe will result in better decisions, even though it might take far longer. Rural communities don't have to simply put up with the harmful effects of large-scale mining operations just because the mining companies and the governments (sometimes) supporting them are powerful. They can mobilize, be heard, and get results. No, not everything will get done, and many things will seem much better on paper than they will actually turn out. But the belief,  the will, is there, and sometimes I think that the U.S. has lost sight of that will. Granted, any compare/contrast between two so vastly dissimilar countries is going to be hugely inadequate, and neither do I have an ear to the ground in the Palacio to really, really know what's going on. Still, ensconced as it is in the omnipresent Buen Vivir, the politics and zeitgeist of Ecuador provides a few points on life in the 21st century which could, I think, serve as examples for many other, more "advanced" places in the world.

Or maybe I'm just jazzed from all that maté de coca.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Insights from my Afro-Ecuadorian Friend, Paulo

Photo available at
Paulo, a friend I met while interning in Ecuador, agreed to sit down with me and share his perspective on the struggles and challenges of the Afro-Ecuadorian community. Paulo received a Comuicador Social degree from Universidad Central del Ecuador in Quito and currently works as the Communications Liaison for Fundación FIDAL, an environment- and education-based non-profit organization started by former President of Ecuador, Rosalía Arteaga.

1.) I have heard that most Afro-Ecuadorians come from the province of Esmeraldas.  Where are you from?  Is there a large Afro-Ecuadorian presence in your community?

Ecuador has had two important migrations of African people. The first migration was in the 15th Century, when a slave ship wrecked along the Ecuadorian coast in Esmeraldas. In that event, about nineteen African men and nine African woman became free.

The second migration occurred in the 17th Century, when a religious colonial group called the Jesuits brought African people from areas in the Congo and Angola to slave markets in a valley of Ecuador called the “Valle del Chota”.  Valle del Chota, which is located along the border between the provinces of Carchi and Imbabura, was home to the most important slave market in Ecuador.  The slaves who were sold here were forced to work on nearby sugar cane plantations. 

I’m from Quito, but my parents are from the Valle del Chota. There is still a large Afro-Ecuadorian presence in the Valle del Chota and a growing presence in Quito.
Valle de Choto, photo available at http://www.panoramio.com/photo/11005928.

2.) In a lecture I attended, a speaker suggested that, Afro-Ecuadorians would say they prefer being discriminated against but visible in Ecuadorian society rather than being invisible.  What do you think of this statement?

First, I have never known an Afro-Ecuadorian who prefers to be discriminated.  In fact, we are fighting against these two topics: discrimination and invisibility. People have to understand one important thing: Invisibility is a consequence of discrimination. Discrimination cannot be a path to visibility because, when we discriminate against others for any reason, we are denying their origins, rights, culture, and existence. Discrimination is not a form of visibility.

3.) I understand that recent census data shows that the number of self-identified Afro-Ecuadorians is higher that the total number of self-identified indigenous people.  Do you think of yourself as indigenous?  Why do you think that Afro-Ecuadorians did not identify themselves as indigenous in the census?

When I hear the term indigenous, I think of the people who were in this region first, before others travelled here. This does not describe my people.  We were brought here from Africa 600 years ago.  This is why many Afro-Ecuadorians did not identify themselves as indigenous in the census.

Personally, I know that I have mestizo roots but I do not identify as mestizo.  This is because, when I walk down the street, society sees me as black rather than mestizo. The way that society sees me has shaped my life experiences.  For this reason I identify myself as Afro-Ecuadorian.

The recent census was interesting also because Afro-Ecuadorians had the option to self-identify as black or of African descent.  Many people chose to self-identify as black because they felt like the term Afro-Ecuadorian has been popularized by political elites with personal interests rather than by black people.

4.) I understand that FENOCIN is an indigenous organization within Ecuador that works to secure rights for several indigenous groups, including Afro-Ecuadorians.  Do you think that organizations like this one are truly working to help the Afro-Ecuadorian community? 

In Ecuador, we have about thirty Afro-Ecuadorian organizations that are supposed to be working for us, but in reality these groups focus on personal interests rather than the interests of Afro-Ecuadorians. For this reason, I don’t believe in these organizations. Unfortunately, we don’t have a solid Afro-Ecuadorian group who can represent us politically, intellectually and culturally and present a more positive image of our people. Right now, many individuals think of us only as people who play sports, engage in manual labor and law enforcement jobs, or commit crimes and go to prison.  This is a problem for my people.

(NOTE: Here is an article with a video from PBS Frontline about the Afro-Ecuadorian presence on Ecuador's soccer team:
http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2010/06/ecuador_dreamto.html.  The photo of the soccer player and ball above also came from this site.) 

Photo available at

5.) I am very curious about Mama Negra and the festivals that celebrate her.  I noticed that the Mama Negra is portrayed in blackface in these festivals.  In the United States, many African Americans take offense to the use of blackface because it is thought to perpetuate negative stereotypes about African Americans.  What do you think about the use of blackface in these festivals? 

La “Mama Negra” is a celebration of gratitude to Our Lady of Mercy for having saved the people of Latacunga who lived in fear of constant eruptions of the Cotopaxi Volcano 251 years ago.  The use of blackface in this celebration is meant to represent the burned people who died in the volcanic eruptions.  Although the use of blackface is not necessarily intended to be racist, the Mama Negra character is often represented as an ugly black mother who enjoys street dancing and drinking liquor – two typical Afro-Ecuadorian stereotypes.  In this way, the festival has racist elements, even if the overall theme is not grounded in prejudice.

(NOTE: For historical information about the use of blackface in the United States, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface.)

Image available at http://www.plazadeportiv

6.) I have noticed several signs for a local fastfood chain, Menestras del Negro, which uses an image of a primitive man with a dark complexion to represent their stores.  What do you think of the use of this image?

If we, as Afro-Ecuadorians, were more organized as a group, we could prosecute that restaurant chain, because the image you are referring to promotes racism and promoting racism is a crime according to our Ecuadorian Constitution. Regrettably, I have to repeat that we are poorly organized so the restaurant will use the image forever.

(NOTE: For an interesting blog post also raising questions about Menestras del Negro, visit

Image updated in late 1980's
Image used in late 1800s

As a follow-up to question #6, the use of this image reminds me of some of the older and more stereotypical representations used for the Aunt Jemima logo in the U.S.  In the late 1980’s, after various changes over the last 100 years or so, Aunt Jemima was updated to show a more modern African American woman.  Do you think a similar update is needed for Menestras del Negro?

I think they have to change their restaurant name and issue a public apology to all Afro-Ecuadorians.

In truth though, we are part of the problem because, despite the offensive name, we continue to buy their food.  As Afro-Ecuadorians, we need to develop awareness campaigns that explain the racist nature of the restaurant name and logo.  For example, we could start a campaign with the slogan: “No compres las menestras del negro” and share ideas with Afro-Ecuadorians and other Ecuadorians about why we should not eat at Menestras del Negro until they update their name and logo.

(NOTE: The images of Aunt Jemima included in this post came from a 2011 blog post entitled, Aunt Jemima: Negative Stereotype or Iconic Brand.  For these images and others showing the evolution of the Aunt Jemima brand, visit

Thursday, July 26, 2012

BONUS POST: If Your Computer Breaks in Quito...

About halfway into my trip, my computer broke!  I'm sure you can imagine how distressing this was!?  I was fortunate enough to receive a recommendation to visit AppTek near FLACSO.  AppTek is located at the intersection of Avenida de República and Diego de Almagro.  While I was there, several people were dropping off and picking up various Apple products and everyone seemed satisfied.  AppTek does not have a website so I told them I would mention them on my trip blog.  Many thanks to the outstanding staff at AppTek for fixing my computer quickly and inexpensively!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In the News...

Recently, Ecuador has been in the news for a highly controversial situation - whether to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the creator of Wikileaks. There is a good article on the story here.

While Assange is a highly controversial figure himself, the granting of asylum, if it happens, will be about more than simply freedom of expression and transparency. As a matter of fact, the track record in Ecuador of freedom of press is rather bad, with reporters who speak out against the government being subject to harassment, attacks or being essentially made unemployable because of government interventions (note: to be fair, attacks are generally carried out by citizens who are passionately supportive of the government, not the organization itself. or, perhaps better put, there is little evidence to indicate that the government itself carries out attacks). For more on press freedom issues in Ecuador, check out CPJ's website.

Whatever the reason that Ecuador has gotten itself involved in the Assange case, it is sure to be interesting to see how it plays out.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bus Transportation in Quito - Ecovia, Terminal Terreste, and Other Options


Each evening, I take the Ecovia from my internship to my hostel near la Mariscal.  The bus travels along Avenida 6 de Deciembre from La Marin to Rio Coca.  For more information about the various stops, see the route map below.  Also, for a brief YouTube video of the Ecovia in action, visit: Ecovia in Action (Set to Music).

The Ecovia has its advantages and disadvantages.  On the positive side, at 25¢ per ride, it is very inexpensive!  Wondering if you need to have exact change?  The answer is yes and no.  The turnstile only accepts quarters but an on-site staffer will exchange your nickels, dimes, and 50¢ pieces for quarters.  I would not, however, recommend asking the staffer to break bills for you as, again, they are primarily dealing with nickels and dimes.

On the negative side, the buses get extremely crowded!  There have been several occasions where I thought there was no way even one more person could fit and, to my surprise, another six or seven people would hop aboard!  Also, the buses are prone to frequent and sudden stops so, if you are not holding on the handrails, you could fall forwards or backwards and knock down several people - picture dominoes falling.  In addition, exiting the bus can be challenge because you must push through the crowd and break through before the door closes.

You may notice that most people keep close watch over their belongings.  For example, many people wear their backpacks in front of them.  Certainly a prudent practice for all public transportation excursions!  All and all, however, the Ecovia (and other similar buses) provides an opportunity to travel great distances within the city of Quito at a low cost seven days a week. For route information about other similar buses, visit: http://www.getquitoecuador.com/quito-map-center/index.html.
Screen shot from http://www.getquitoecuador.com/quito-map-center/ecovia-quito-map.html


This past weekend, I visited a fellow AU Study Abroad adventurer staying in Cuenca, a city 8-10 hours away from Quito by bus.  Although it is also possible to fly to Cuenca, I decided to go with the cheaper route and take a Greyhound-style overnight bus for about $25 roundtrip.

Terminal Terreste - Quitumbe y Carcelén

There are two major terminal terreste, or ground transportation terminals, with buses traveling to and from Quito.
  1. Quitumbe
    • Routes that travel to southern, coastal, and Amazonian regions
    • Located at Avenida Condor Nan and Avenida Quitumbe
  2. Carcelén
    • Routes that travel north to Otavalo, Ibarra, and the Colombian border
    • Located at Avenida Eloy Alfaro near the Pan American Highway
For information about bus lines and departure times from each of these stations, visit: http://www.quito-turismo.gob.ec.  Another site with information about Quito bus terminals is http://www.volunteeringecuador.info/about-ecuador/busterminals-in-quito.html.

Flota Imbabura

For my trip, at the recommendation of a friend from Cuenca, I bought a bus ticket with a private company - Flota Imbabura.  The Flota Imbabura station is located at the corner of  Portoviejo and Manuel Larrea (about a 20-min walk or 10-min cab ride from the heart of La Mariscal).  In addition to traveling to and from Cuenca, Flota Imbabura had buses traveling to Guayaquil, Ibarra, and other cities.

I highly recommend buying your ticket at least one or two days ahead of time because, if you try and purchase a ticket on the day of, you may have to wait in line 1-2 hours to buy your ticket and many of the departure times are already booked up.  Another thing to keep in mind is that the temperatures on the buses were a bit extreme.  On the way to Cuenca, the heat was quite high but, on the way back, there was no heat and the ride was freezing!  If you have a blanket, it might be a good idea to bring it in case you experience the latter.  Overall, the bus experience was comparable to long distance buses in the U.S.  With that in mind, you can draw your own conclusions about whether or not taking a bus is the right choice for you.  Personally, if an opportunity presents itself, I will definitely take advantage of this inexpensive mode of travel in the future!


Sure!  This post is just meant to get you started!  There are many bus lines that travel to and from Quito.  There are also taxis and private vans.  Once you start looking around, you will likely find many options!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gruppo Salinas

Mitad del Mundo

Throughout my time in Ecuador, I have been struck by the recurring theme of balance in all things.  Our trip began with tours of Mitad del Mundo and Old Town Quito, including the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, a beautiful church with ornate representations of pineapples and grape vines placed intentionally throughout the space.  While studying these representations, we learned of how the people of Ecuador have addressed notions of balance, or harmony, both historically and in the present.  For an article about our outstanding tour guide, Julio Rivas, visit: Going Where No Other Tour Has Gone Before.

The importance of balance was underscored by Indigenous Movement leader and former Minister of Social Welfare, Luis Maldonado as he discussed various aspects of the Indigenous Movement including the emphasis on right relationships with the natural world, participatory democracy, consensus building, mutual respect, complementarity, and reciprocity.

Screen shot from the Gruppo Salinas website: www.salinerito.com
Perhaps the most compelling example of the principles of reciprocity, harmony, and balance lived daily, however, is in the town of Salinas de Guaranda, located approximately 5 - 7 hours by bus from Quito.  For an interesting video from CNN en Español about Salinas de Guaranda, check out: Reportaje CNN "salinerito" (NOTE: The english subtitles are not especially helpful).  Since the early 1970's, the people of Salinas de Guaranda have embodied economic solidarity as they have worked cooperatively to improve livelihoods for all communities within the region.

Gruppo Salinas is the umbrella organization that represents the common interests of the people of Salinas and its six member institutions.  For information about each of the distinct member organizations within Gruppo Salinas, visit: Gruppo Salinas Institutional History.  Also available on this site is information about the organizational and business structures of Gruppo Salinas and the products available for sale.

Community members bringing
milk to be pasteurized
Gruppo Salinas operates under the principles of transparency, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, solidarity, and democracy.  These principles, coupled with their commitment to economic complementarity, have allowed the people of Salinas to make the most of the abundant resources in the area while being mindful of the need to preserve the land for future generations.  In fact, from a young age, children in Salinas are taught to harvest flowers and herbs but always with the awareness that, when they are finished harvesting for the day, there should still be enough for tomorrow.  The children are taught to harvest just enough and, by extension, are taught about both sustainable business practices and harmony with the natural world.

Salinerito cheeses
Salinas is perhaps best known for its cheeses and chocolates which are sold in Ecuador at local grocery stores and also exported to various locations around the globe.  For information about two cooperatives that provide Ecuadorian chocolate to the United Kingdom visit: Ecuador Chocofest.

There are approximately 25 dairy products and 30 confectionaries sold under the Salinerito label.  In addition, the Salinerito label also includes teas, meats, herbs, soy products, and other items - all of which are produced by the community.

Hiking through interesting terrain

Beyond the products sold under the Salinerito label, the people of Salinas also take advantage of the rich landscape of the region by offering tourism opportunities to visitors.  Tourists can spend the day visiting a host of micro-enterprises or, for those who want to enjoy the natural beauty of the landscape, guides offer hiking trips through nearby caves, forests, and along mountainsides.  Tourists can also enjoy a short climbing adventure at the local salt mine.  Overall, I was most impressed by the commitment to community that the people of Salinas displayed.  Through complementarity, reciprocity, and balance, the town of Salinas de Guaranda continues to thrive!

After climbing at the salt mine

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cambio Climático y Machala

Audience in Machala
Through my internship at Fundación FIDAL (http://www.fidal-amlat.org/), I have learned much about how climate change (or cambio climático in Spanish), is affecting the people of Ecuador.  At FIDAL, individuals are working to combat the impacts of climate change by hosting awareness workshops and facilitating regional cooperation through the development of risk management plans for border communities in Columbia, Perú, and Ecuador.

This is a link to an interactive model about the potential impacts associated with a global temperature rise of 4°C (7°F): Potential Impacts - Global Temp Rise

Banana Shipping Company - DERBY
I had the opportunity to attend a climate change workshop in the coastal city of Machala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machala).  Much of Machala’s economy, which is based on the exportation of bananas, is deeply impacted by the devastating effects of El Niño, one of the many natural phenomena that are affected in strength and frequency by climate change.  In fact, an article about the increased likelihood of the arrival of El Niño in the Gulf of Guayaquil recently appeared in an issue of El Comercio, one of the primary national newspapers of Ecuador: The Increased Likelihood of the Arrival of El Niño.

carry bananas as well.
While in Machala, we visited Puerto Bolívar and got a chance to see the ships responsible for carrying bananas to North America and other locations.  We also visited a nearby beach where I was struck by the amount of trash along the shoreline.  After inquiring about the trash, I learned that the area near the beach is frequently flooded and when the water recedes, it carries away trash and other items with it.  This trash then ends up on the beaches and tangled in nearby vegetation.  As sea levels rise thanks to the rise in global temperatures, the issues those in the city of Machala are trying to combat will likely affect other coastal cities around the globe as well.

Trash along the shoreline in Machala
Trash caught in the vegetation
Wildlife in Machala also impacted by climate change