Monday, August 20, 2012

Why Is Ecuador Poor?

It was clear immediately that Ecuador is a poor country.  What was not clear, and still is not, was why.  I couldn't help but compare China and Ecuador since I visited them both within the space of three months.  China has pulled 400 million people up from poverty and has not sacrificed the culture to do it. Actually, one website says the number is 600 million people.  Wikipedia states that there has been a decline in the poverty rate in China from 85% in 1981 to 16% in 2005.

When we visited China we were astounded by the amount of new construction being done.  In Beijing the government had to designate an area containing the hutongs as "national treasures" and protect them from the bulldozers.  

Otherwise, soon there would be nothing left of the old China except the Forbidden City.  Everyone has heard of the Three Gorges Dam project which has provided power for a great expansion of modernity but has wiped out many towns and villages where families had lived for hundreds of years.  All of those people were relocated, and I doubt that they were ever asked whether they were in favor of the project or not.  When the great Reform and Opening began in 1978, China's economy began to grow.  In the second phase of this program, the country was opened to foreign investment and in a short time China became second only to the US as an economic power.  

In Ecuador, there is some new construction taking place, but it appears to be single-family homes, or condo complexes to sell to Americans wanting to live on their social security income.  There are few, if any, office buildings being built to house foreigners working to bring prosperity to an emerging country.  Nor did we see any factories, plants, major infrastructure projects or even sports facilities being built.  Admitedly, we did not spend much time in Quito or in Cuenca, and I am sure we would have seen more evidence that we were still in the 21st century had we been there.  But we did travel around quite a bit on busses, and everywhere we went was the same.  

Unpainted concrete block structures that looked like the least tremor from one of the many volcanoes would send them tumbling down.  There was very little effort made to make the environment appealing and pleasant.  In Cotacachi, on Leather Street, the shops were very attractive and clean, but, of course, the majority of their customers are foreigners.  The condo complex where we stayed likewise was beautifully landscaped and the painters were working to freshen up the exterior while we were there.  Again, mostly for Americans.  When we got out into the countryside, some of the dwellings were deplorable.  Even in the beach community of Puerto Lopez, the streets were dirt, the chickens roamed at will, and starving stray dogs begged at every restaurant.

We visited the Temple of Heaven garden in Beijing and loved seeing the people playing cards, mahjong, and exercising together in the park.
In Ecuador, people worked every day it seemed, and especially on Sunday when they worked in the marketplace selling produce, fruit, or flowers.

In China there was a feeling of striving, a sense that every person, even the eldest, were working hard to improve their lives and make their country better. I never got that sense in Ecuador.  Perhaps that's why Americans are flocking there to live.  They want to spend their retirement years where there is no pressure to accomplish anything.  

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