ECUADOR: Government

ecuador Sebastiao SalgadoUnemployment, unclean water, disease, and health care deficiencies have made rural-urban migration a large problem in many South American countries. In Ecuador, these issues, added with other economic and financial problems have made poverty practically a social norm, especially among rural communities. Studies have shown that as much as 60% of Ecuador's population lives below the poverty line. Among the rural population, the percentage increases to about 87%. This has caused families and individuals to risk large and dangerous migrations in an attempt to escape these conditions. However, urbanization is not the answer to Ecuador's economic and social problems.

What is the answer? What can ease the burden of urbanization and improve the standard of living in Ecuador?


Urbanization in Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador (http://volunteerecuador.net)Today in Ecuador, around 62% of the population has urbanized. The shift in the economy that should be expected—from agricultural dominance, to subsistence on manufactured products—is not happening. Those who stay on their farms produce 75% of the nation's basic goods, while only owning 35% of the farmable land. Increasingly, Ecuadorians are forced to turn to the informal sector of the economy— street vending, etc. that is not funded or recognized by the state—and child labor in order to squeeze out a living. Half of all Ecuadorians live in poverty (estimated near 87% in rural areas). In 1996, the wealthiest 20% of the population earned 50% of the national income! The poorest 20% earned only 5% of the national income! Only around one third of students complete the sixth grade.

Inefficient, and un-enforced government policy have created a disturbing scene in Ecuador. These intense economic and social problems can only be corrected as Ecuador, with international assistance, analyzes and revolutionizes its economic and public policies.

Government Organization and Policy

Since the 1940's, Ecuador has been attempting to create a stable democratic society; however, constant bouts of corruption, and public revolt have led to considerable instability. The rapid succession of eight presidents in the last ten years —three of them expulsed by the congress or the people—and military coups in the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's (even as recent as January of 2000) have created a general confusion about government's role in a democratic state. This confusion, coupled with the people's mistrust of their leaders, has created an ineffective and somewhat powerless presidency, an over-powerful and rule-skirting legislature, and inefficient, problematic attempts to turn the struggling nation around.

Ecuador —like the US—sports a three pronged government system; consisting of the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches. Ecuador has many political parties which are most often small and, "loose organizations that [depend] more on populist, often charismatic, leaders to retain support than on programs or ideology. Frequent internal splits have produced extreme factionalism." This factionalism has led to a bickering—often childish—government that has destroyed, rather than constructed, any semblance of national, or democratic unity. When the government has gotten around to focusing on Ecuador's painful economic and social situation, it has been unable to produce significant change. Its own inability to enforce, or pursue any policy over an extended period of time has prohibited growth and development.

Failed Government Policy

Let's look at one example of an Ecuadorian government approach to curbing urbanization. One of the root causes of urbanization in Ecuador has been the dispute over land. Since the days of the Spanish colonies, Ecuador's farming system has been run on a sort of feudal system. Poor native farmers—huasipungueros—are granted small plots of land—minifundios—on larger haciendas, or plantations, in exchange for hard labor. These huasipungueros lived—and still do—largely in poverty, only surviving through subsistence farming.

In the 1960's, international, and humanitarian pressure spawned the Land Reform, Idle Lands, and Settlement Act, and formed the Ecuadorian Institute of Agrarian Reform and Settlement (IERAC). The Land act basically outlawed the Huasipungo system, and redistributed land from the "absentee landlords" and gave it to the feudal subsistence farmers. Although this change was well meaning, there were two large problems. First, IERAC was unable to effectively enforce the Land act. To quote a country study on Ecuador, "…political opposition slowed implementation of the land reform act. IERAC received little government funding and was not permitted to actively encourage expropriation. Later amendments to the land reform act exempted all farms that were efficiently run. In addition, redistributed land was frequently poor or on mountainsides because the large landowners kept fertile valley lands for themselves. Except for a few showcase examples, farmers on minifundios received no government assistance or services to make the plots productive." Although the Land Reform act did increase the average number of hectares owned by the huasipungueros—making a minimum requirement of 4.8 hectares—by 1982, 80% of the minifundios still covered less than 10 hectares. Second, the new system completely shook up established lifestyles. "Without credit or experience, many new small landowners had to sell their land. Peasants left the land their forefathers had farmed for generations. Large sections of the population left the… countryside for the cities…" Although land reform was necessary, the way in which it was carried out only spurred migration to the cities. Farmers were still poor, and now many were displaced.

Educational opportunity has also been denied the poorer classes. Although Ecuador boasts a primary school—ages 6-12—enrollment level of 97%, only about 50% of those children will ever enroll in secondary schooling, and of those who do, 16-17% will drop out before graduating. Although primary school attendance is mandatory and "free", poor government funding, combined with often less than qualified facilities, has shifted much of the economic burden back onto the parents of students. While living in often extreme poverty levels, many parents are expected to find a way to pay for textbooks and other school supplies. Is it any wonder that so few children complete their schooling? Or that generations of Ecuadorians have been stuck in low paying, "dead end" jobs?

The Dire Results

Mariano Acosta, Ecuador (http://www.everyculture.com/imagesWith farmers still unable to make a livable income, the cities of Ecuador have been flooded. Higher paying jobs in the cities have caused many Ecuadorians to make the long trip to the crowded streets of Quito, and Guayaquil—the two most populated cities in Ecuador— which now house nearly fifty percent of Ecuador's total population!

This unprecedented tidal wave of migrants has created some disturbing trends in Ecuador's urban centers. Suburbios—large squatter settlements—began to spring up around Quito, and Guayaquil in the 1960's. These largely squalid ghettos, which receive little government aid or support, account for 10-15% of the country's population. In order to survive, many low poverty stricken families turn to child labor as a supplement to their income. According to UNICEF, 12% of Ecuadorian children fit in the "Child Laborer" category. It is estimated that 5,200 minors are in situations of sexual exploitation, mostly through commercial prostitution. "The largest segment of Ecuador's population includes peasants and subsistence farmers, informal sector vendors, agribusiness employees, temporary workers, and the unemployed. Most of these Ecuadorians are denied the education and connections to gain access to the small professional sector and are thus confined to low-paid jobs."

What Can Be Done

While they are forced to the slums by lack of economic sustainability in the fields, Ecuadorians are kept in the slums by lack of economic opportunity in the cities. It is a trap that can only be escaped as Ecuador, with international assistance, makes a greater push to help farmers raise their incomes through subsidies and incentives, and strengthens its educational system. Thankfully, the international community is striving for such achievements, most readily seen by the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

The second in the list of eight goals is; Achieve Universal Primary Education. The United Nations is willing, and anxious to work with countries to improve education, and make sure that at least a primary education is obtained by all people. If the Ecuadorian government can leave behind its intrigues and impeachments long enough, the educational system in Ecuador could be revamped. By increasing government funding, and working with other nations to receive training and support, Ecuador could make its educational system affordable, available, and effective in providing the necessary skills for citizens to change their economic and social status. In the late 1990's Ecuador assigned only 13% of the national budget to Education. That must change. With the support of the U.N, and the creation of Ecuadorian policy that helps ecuadorian students stay in school, promotes growth in the educational system, it can.

Ecuador must focus as well on subsidizing the agricultural produce which comes from peasant farmers. Increasing the economic viability of those farmers will help eliminate poverty, curb urbanization, and create a more stable political environment. When the people's needs are met, then democracy will be able to take hold in Ecuador. Without supporting the farmers, Ecuador will condemn itself to continually high poverty levels, and continually low opportunity for economic and social progression.

As members of the U.N, nations around the world can help motivate, and support Ecuador on its road to political stability, and general economic prosperity. It is crucial for members of the U.N to focus on the eighth of the Millennium Development Goals, which is; Develop a Global Partnership for Development. As the world powers such as the United States, China, United Kingdom, and others actively take a role in promoting development—through economic assistance, i.e. helping reduce national debt, and supporting Ecuador's commercial enterprises—the Ecuadorian people will have a chance for success.

Works Cited

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