The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

One in three leaves

By Maurice Lemoine
Le Monde diplomatique

JUST before Rafael Correa became president, he said that Ecuadorian emigration was “a national tragedy”. Over the past 20 years, some 4 million of 13.5 million Ecuadorians have left. With good reason: almost half the population lives in poverty. The standard of living was severely reduced when the US dollar became the legal tender in 2000. The resulting increase in local production costs had a devastating effect on agriculture and industry.

It is hardly surprising that emigration is so high. It began during the 1980s, when President León Febres Cordero introduced the neoliberal model. Until 2002, 80% of migrants came from indigenous groups or were farmers; after 2003 professionals, engineers, teachers and doctors began to go, mostly to Europe, while they could afford to do so. The poor must go into debt to navigate the rapids of emigration. People traffickers — “coyotes” — charged $4,000 to organise the journey from Ecuador to the United States in 2000, $8,000 in 2003 and $10,000-$12,500 today.

Changes in US immigration policies and border security increased costs over the past year, and so there are new illegal financiers: chulqueros, who lend money at 30% or even 40% interest. Coyotes transport aspirants to the US way of life by sea to the jungles of Central America; then they cross secretly into Mexico and, if their luck holds, to the US.

The journey to Europe is safer and cheaper, requiring only false papers.Some 800,000 Ecuadorians now live in Spain, 64% aged between 15 and 40. Many work 15-hour days harvesting fruit and vegetables. They must survive on poverty wages, send money back to their families, and repay chulqueros. Tragedy is never far away. Freddy Cabrera, a teacher in alternative education at Riobamba, in central Ecuador, said: “When you take out the loan, you have to hand over the deeds to your house or land. If you don’t pay, they’ll start confiscating. It’s even worse if you die. Your family will be on the street.”

Money from abroad is remitted to 24% of Ecuador’s population, $1.7bn every year. Cabrera said: “Those who manage to get out leave children who have no sense of the value of things. They spend their remesas on clothes, electronic gizmos and knick-knacks.” Where will high consumption without productive development lead?

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