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A 100 Days of Rafael Correa

by KATHY RENTENBACH

“Just so that the rice would have a different flavor.”

There you have it. I had had to ask, “Why would anyone eat cuy? There is no meat on a cuy.”

A cuy, named after the sounds it makes ( I’m told), is a guinea pig… A child’s pet in the USA.

Guinea pig. Traditional food in Ecuador….. Rapidly reproducing, it is a repeatable pleasure.

(Currently McDonald’s, KFC and Tony Roma’s are also rapidly reproducing food with a presence in Ecuador.)

Enter Rafael Correa, a 44 year old with a Ph.D. in economics from Illinois. New president of Ecuador, former minister of finance.

100 days of Rafael. According to reports,he is threatening to sue private banks for overcharging interest rates, has set up a Truth Commission to investigate human rights abuses of the 80s-90s, is backing the $6 billion lawsuit against Chevron for allegedly polluting the Amazon,has limited tourism in the ecologically sensitive Galapagos Islands and has the support of the Ecuadoreans who passed a referendum allowing for the rewriting of the country’s constitution.

The L. A. Times (4/28/07) noted “Chevron said its net income in the 1st 3 months of 2007 totaled $4.7 billion”… Close. That would almost take care of the lawsuit. No problem.

The people I spoke with loved Rafael. A taxi driver shook his head as he said they hope to see him still alive at the end of 4 years.

It will be a cold day in hell when a US president sets out a “Citizen’s Revolution” to change the constitution, end corruption, revolutionize economics, health, education and recovery the nation’s dignity and sovereignty. Rafael doesn’t need a 1000 points of lights, just 5 or 6.

A New York Times byline of 4/15/07: “Ecuador, ever unstable, prepares for new leader’s plans”.

Why? Why “ever unstable”? Ask Philip Agee.

See the first half of Inside the company, CIA DIARY written in 1975. Agee recounts how the CIA directly caused massive instability during the Ecuadorean presidency of Velasco in the early 1960s. He outlines the “technical penetration” of each political party. And penetrate they did.

“CIA operations are crucial to the economic growth and political stability programmes, because of the inevitable capital flight and low private investment whenever communism becomes a threat. The Cuban revolution has stirred up and encouraged the forces of instability all over the hemisphere and it’s our job to put them down. CIA operations promote stability through assisting local governments to build up their security forces — particularly the police but also the military — and by putting down the extreme left. That, in a nutshell, is what we’re doing: building up the security forces and suppressing, weakening destroying, the extreme left.” (p 137 Agee).

I heard that, for now, Rafael still controls that military.

I was spending time in Quito, Ecuador living in a family’s high rise condo in the “new city” north of the central historical district. The guard at the condo was a polite 45 year old named Pedro. Pedro helped me with my spanish in his down time. He had a lot of down time.

He worked 12 hour shifts 6 days a week with no mention of holiday pay, lunch breaks or health insurance. His job was to open the front door during the day and lock it at night. A 9 mm gun was prominently displayed in the window of the guard station.

His job was to protect those who drove SUVs 5 miles to their jobs. Those who sent their high school children to the USA to learn English at age 16. Those who had no familiarity with cuy. Between he and his “senora” they brought home $250.00 per month. With this salary they took care of their 4 children in colegio, high school.

In the street was a scruffy child of indeterminate age and sex who helped direct drivers as they parallel parked. He caught a few tossed dimes for this. At intersections, besides the street vendors and shoeshiners, were jugglers and acrobats. They solicited coins as the light changed then gracefully sidestepped the traffic.

On page 251, Agee again:

“One has to wonder how the Ecuadorean working class can even stay alive to organize. Two weeks ago the President of the National Planning Board, in a general economic report to the Chamber of Deputies, revealed that the worker in 1961 received an average monthly income of only 162 sucres — about $7.00”.

It’s all relative almost 50 years later.

Pedro was raised in the province of Loja near the capital in an adobe house w/ a “zinc”or tin roof. 5 people lived in one room. He would have preferred a more ample living situation. Explained families would add on a room when they could. He had 7 siblings.

He talked of poverty, of eating less in order to save a little money in banks that then went belly up, of counting 25,000 sucres to each dollar and then suddenly in the year 2000, with dollarization, counting far fewer dollars.

He asked about life in the US, wondering how much better his life would be there.

I listened, eyebrows arching ever higher , to tales of coyotes taking his tios, sobrinos and other relatives “al otro lado”, to the other side, to the United States, to “Nueva” Jersey. For the price of $20,000.00 USD (and I double checked that number) a coyote would transport you through Mexico and, he said, through Arizona. Exactly where his family crossed was hazy. He described a veritable underground railroad of connections all the way to New Jersey.

One night at I sat in his guard station chair eating cookies with him as he told a family story. One of his best friends and an uncle who had crossed the border were on a USA bus. There was an accident. His best friend died and the uncle fled limping from the accident site . If he was caught he would be deported. Inexplicably he made it successfully to New Jersey, found restaurant work and brought his family over one by one.

I marvelled at how someone who could only afford rice and cuy could afford $20,000.00 for a coyote.

Pedro knew how. Latin American family ties are tight and reach far and wide. Loans are rapid and plentiful as possible. Coyotes extract their pay for years from those who cross over. But, Pedro said, 3 strikes and you were out. If you were caught and deported 3 times, the coyote’s job was over. You still owed him the $20,000.00.

Pedro has high hopes for new Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and his “21st century socialism”. He hopes his social programs come to fruition, hopes he can last in his presidency the entire 4 years, hopes that the sucre will return.

But most of all Pedro hopes that one day he can go to “al otro lado”.

KATHY RENTENBACH’s previous essay for CounterPunch was “Oaxaca Report: Will there be Huesos?

 

 

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