One of the most interesting things about Quito is the Ecuador government. There seem to be a mix of good and many bad things about it…oh well, maybe that’s true everywhere!
Correa, the President, has his palace in Quito. While we were in Quito, protests were scheduled, against the government decision related to a huge swath of land, called Yasmuni, in the Amazon area. Oil was recently discovered there, and the question was whether to drill. The Correa government told many countries, including the US, that if they would make carbon offset payments to Ecuador, Ecuador would not drill in this area. The countries decided not to make the payments, so Correa gave the green light to drill. Then the protests began.
We saw many, many, policemen and soldiers everywhere (18 on one street corner), and government sponsored bands playing in the town square in events that reminded us of a pep rally before the homecoming game, but we didn’t see a single protester. According to one person, one protester flipped the bird in response to a speech. He was trundled off rapidly by the police. This example reduced the enthusiasm for protesting.
It seems that some of the best things that Correa has done date back to when he first took office. First, he called together representatives of the oil companies pumping in Ecuador. He told them they were going to switch the profit sharing arrangement between the companies and the Ecuadorian government from 70/30 to 30/70, and if they didn’t like it they could leave Ecuador. Evidently everyone but the Italians elected to stay. Second, he told the people that if they didn’t pay taxes he would put them in jail. We presume that after a couple of well known people were sent to jail, everyone started paying taxes. He’s used a lot of this money to build a beautiful new airport, a number of new highways and bridges. He hopes to increase tourism in Ecuador from 1 million to 1.5 million per year. We even saw free flower pots that people put in their window sills with bright colored geraniums, which we were told were made available to the people.
Correa has also “organized” the barrios. He gave the current residents certificate of ownership for the land they were sitting on, and set up processes to ensure that the Barrios don’t extend further.
One of the most significant changes was the currency shift from an Ecuadorian dollar to the US dollar. Evidently, under the Ecuadorian dollar, the currency was so unstable, and inflation so hard to control, that no-one would lend money, so no-one could borrow.
On the other hand, he’s pushing to extend the Presidential term limit from the current 12 years, so he can stay in office. People we talked to said they may not like him or they may not have voted for him, but he has done many good things. We’re told that Correa enjoys a 70% approval rating from the population, one of the highest for any government leader in the world.