Exclusive Look Into Ecuador’s Crisis From a Teenager Forced to Flee her Hometown

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Ecuadorians protesting during their nation’s crisis (Image Credit: The Guardian)

This article was written by Emily Ulloa, an Ecuadorian teenager who fled her hometown of Manta during her nation’s crisis. In the following article, she discusses her nation’s crisis from a first-hand perspective, with reference to on-the-ground research she conducted.

Like many small nations of Latin America, Ecuador is not well known in a great majority of nations. Yet this month saw Ecuador propelled to the spotlight, discussed in various media coverage formats from the United Nations, CNN, New York Times, and DW to multiple embassies in the developed world.

All headlines were homed in on Ecuador’s worst security crisis, brought about by Mexican cartels and the deeply violent drug trafficking industry.

A brief recap of the breaking developments in Ecuador’s crisis is as follows:

  1. January 2023, Ecuador is labeled as among the most dangerous nations in Latin America.
  2. July 23, 2023Agustin Intriago, the mayor of Manta, Ecuador’s third-largest city, was assassinated while touring a crowded neighborhood.
  3.  August 9, 2023, Fernando Villavicencio, a political candidate, was assassinated when leaving a routine meeting in the capital Quito, as discussed in a previous article.
  4.  August 14, 2023Pedro Briones a prominent leader of the political movement of the Esmeralda city, was assassinated.
  5.  August 20, 2023, the Yasuní oil extraction national vote trends worldwide.

For me, the crisis began on July 23, 2023, in my home city of Manta. By then already thoroughly dominated by drug cartels, the assassination of the Municipal Mayor set off red flags in Ecuadorian public opinion and politics, and on the international stage. It also prompted many citizens worried about safety to flee, like my family.

In this article, I will discuss the Yansuní vote as a case study of the voter apathy plaguing Ecuador, and how it leads to the corruption, crime, and injustice the world is discussing today.

On August 20th, over a dispute between the Andean community and oil extraction representatives, the government held an obligatory national vote. This vote was to decide if the crude oil found below the 43 Block (better known as Yasuní ITT) should be extracted or kept in the ground.

Under normal circumstances, the strategy of “letting the people decide” aligns with a fair and resolute democracy, but most of Ecuador’s citizens are apathetic towards crucial topics such as the economy, the Petrostate, and our urgent state of affairs. To analyze this voter apathy in more detail, I conducted a research survey focused on the average Ecuadorian’s perspective of our financial situation, corruption, and how much their knowledge impacted their votes.

The accompanying heat map offers a readable portrayal of the average Ecuadorian’s grasp of our nation’s primary income sources. According to The Observatory of Economic Complexity, the leading sources, in descending order, are Crude Petroleum, Agriculture, Crustaceans, Refined Petroleum, and Processed Fish, and the population aligns with that order.

The study encompassed a sample of over 100 in-person surveys and 20 online submissions I conducted, representing diverse demographics from across Ecuador.

Interestingly, the population exhibits a higher belief in the significance of Processed Fish over Crustaceans. It is worth acknowledging a minor discrepancy in the ranking order of Crude Petroleum and Agriculture.

More importantly, it must be noted that throughout the in-person form recollection, most people did not consider the impact of their decision on the scale of the national economy, and only later did they start to relate to oil income and the Yasuní consultation. The relation between oil extraction and Ecuador’s economy should be obvious, how does the people’s lack of awareness affect their vote and corruption?

According to Ecuador’s Department of Statistics, lower classes and medium-lower classes are the most populous, covering 64% of the population. As all elections and national votes are obligatory in the country, this percentage is reflected in the votes, which the lower classes and medium-lower classes dominate.

This is worrying, therefore, given that technical knowledge regarding the oil extraction and environmental fields of Yasuní was significantly low for lower classes, with more than 45% having zero knowledge of the topic. In fact, the knowledge and research for their vote is extremely low for more than half of each socioeconomic class, where zero to little knowledge is possessed by 82% of the population.

However, as expected, as we move up towards the more wealthy medium-low class to upper-middle class, a positive progression in the number of people from the Full Knowledge category appears.

Those surveyed who choose not to vote or leave it blank can be assumed to have very little knowledge to no knowledge on this topic.

Gender imbalances are also present. Women appeared to have less knowledge on the topic than men. With 56% of women reported having little technical knowledge, along with 20% of women having zero knowledge; the little to zero knowledge option was the undisputed choice among the female population.

On the other hand, only 2% of men reported having little knowledge while 40% reported possessing considerable knowledge, substantially higher than their female counterparts.

According to the World Bank, Ecuador’s Ministry of Economics, and other international reports, Ecuador is a nation highly dependent on oil, and such dependence is considered a structural weakness. For example, in 2022, the Ministry of Economics pointed out the relationship between oil production accidents in Ecuador and the high growth of prices.

In my research, when analyzing the evolution of the distribution of votes by class, gender, age, and other demographics, it was found that the universal determinant factor for whether people vote is if they were aware of Ecuador’s dependence on oil.

Those who voted for the oil to be extracted in the Yasuní vote were the ones who deemed Ecuador a nation economically dependent on oil exports. Conversely, people who did not consider Ecuador as dependent on oil, voted for the Yasuní to not be touched.

Whether Ecuador is dependent on oil exports or not is not a proposition. It is a fact that has been determined using metrics and can be found in the conclusion of reports, analysis, and national studies.

It is outrageous and should raise concern that people’s votes are determined by their awareness of this economic factor. The absence of thorough research, comprehensive reading, and nuanced analysis contributes significantly to the lack of voter awareness that is contributing to the ongoing national crisis.

The trend of voter apathy shown by the crucially important Yasuní votes is perceivable in a great majority of other concerning topics in Ecuador. The 2021 presidential elections were full of split ballots, and the 2023 Quito Municipal Mayor elections, in which Pabel Muñoz emerged victorious with 25.18% of votes, made history as the lowest amount of votes a winner of Quito Municipal elections obtained ever.

In Ecuador, laws and jurisdiction are approved, edited, or revoked based on the judging of the National Assembly, which is chosen by the electoral winners for its category. The entities that are obligated to regulate and sanction courts and judges, known as the Disciplinary Control, were not considered by the population as being the most corrupt in my case study.

In fact, the population’s perception of corruption in government entities is not even close to the results obtained in official audits revealed in the corruption index.

While a total of 102 people voted for prosecutors and national police as the most corrupt institution, a total of 87 votes for the Presidency and 76 for the Ministry of Health and IESS. Among these results, only those condemning the presidency were somewhat accurate. This is evident in the following chart.

In early 2023, Transparency International, an organization for fighting corruption worldwide, and FCD Ecuador, a foundation to promote citizens’ awareness, created a report regarding the most corrupt entities in Ecuador.

The lack of awareness and understanding among the population about the economic, social, and political impact of their decisions, as highlighted by the Yasuní vote, allows government entities to exploit Ecuador’s situation for their gain. The combination of economic vulnerability and political manipulation has created a breeding ground for corruption, crime, and injustice.

Ecuador’s ongoing crisis is not just the result of recent events but is deeply rooted in systemic issues that have been brewing for years. The rise of criminal activities, and the laws approved by voting consultations that make feasible the infiltration of Mexican drug cartels, has not only led to a surge in violence but has also tarnished Ecuador’s international reputation and drove away foreign investors.

Amazon Frontlines, an international group of lawyers of activists for human rights and environmental wellbeing described the official Yasuní results as “direct climate democracy”. But is it really democracy when 50% of Ecuador’s voters are not even aware of the role of oil?

Written by Emily Ulloa

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