By Julia Duarte
January/February 2001

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It is hurtful to recognize it publicly, but the levels of corruption in this country are really alarming. The social, economic and political ills which Ecuador faces, which can be attributed to many causes, has much to do with the degree of corruption we encounter in the different areas of everyday life here.

In the political arena, high government officials undertake actions resulting in personal gain or gain for family members or business associates, completely disregarding the majority of the population. Congress passes laws which benefit only one sector of society. Politicians and government officials let themselves be ‘bought’ by powerful economic interests and pass laws that favour these interests over and against the rights of workers.

In the economic and banking sectors we find those in charge of the banks giving themselves exorbitant loans in the name of ‘shell’ or ‘front’ companies. The companies then default on these loans sending the bank into receivership. The directors of these banks escape any judicial process as they quickly skip out of the country, leaving the only real losers, those who had entrusted their life savings to the banks.

The justice system permits these corrupt bankers to remain outside the country without attempting to have them extradited back to face justice. The system instead focuses all its attention on accusing and imprisoning the poor for robberies, often without due process. The penal system is overcrowded and prisoners are left to die from epidemics that no one takes any interest in bringing under control.

The Church, too, collaborates when it refuses to speak out and when it aligns itself with the powerful, forgetting its obligation to look out for the poor and to be the voice of the oppressed.

The Church collaborates when it refuses to speak out and when it aligns itself with the powerful, forgetting its obligation to look for the poor and to be the voice of the oppressed.

The economy

The dollarization of Ecuador was decreed on January 9, 2000, with a simple substitution of the US dollar for the local currency. Ecuadorians were told that the economy would improve and there would be an end to the constant instability in the exchange rate; that the number of jobs would increase; that people would receive salaries in American dollars resulting in more income and better living conditions.

In actuality, for the vast majority, the dollarization has led to a drastic drop in living standards, so that ‘the poor’ now include a wide range of professionals and the middle class. Eighty-five percent of those that have the benefit of work receive less than $100 a month in salary. The costs of services (electricity, water, telephone) have doubled or tripled. The cost of basic food items, of gasoline and of medicines have been constantly on the rise.

About 17% or 1.9 million people, live in extreme poverty. They are found in rural areas and on the margins of the cities. They are usually large families and are mostly Indigenous, single mothers, and the elderly.

In 1998, the government instituted a “poverty allowance.” Today it is called a “solidarity allowance” and has been raised to US$6.00 a month. Every day from the early hours of the morning and often through the night, one can see in front of the banks which administer the fund, large lines of people stretching around the block, waiting their turn to receive the “solidarity allowance.”

To be eligible, recipients were required to fill out forms declaring that they are indigents, and the list of those eligible was ‘closed’ in 1999 so that no new names could be added.

Some see this system as demeaning to the poor. The system would be more beneficial if it were accompanied by stronger government actions for improving the conditions of the poor, especially in the areas of health and education.

The Church

To talk of pastoral work in the present context is to talk as much about the field of social endeavours as about the work of direct evangelization.

Our goal is to alleviate the levels of poverty in which the people find themselves. At the same time, we are announcing and trying to bring about the Reign of God with the hope of a life of dignity for all. Our work includes:

    • The celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000, involving collaboration with youth, women, Indigenous, educators, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and basic Christian communities • Catechism and the preparation and celebration of the Sacraments
    • Work with youth, women, teachers, workers, in the cities and the rural areas
    • The building of 200 housing units, with support from the Ecuadorian Bishops Conference, the Ministry of Social Services, and in a small way, from the beneficiaries themselves
    • Improving the life of the poor by creating physical spaces where they can receive spiritual formation
    • Improving agricultural production with the goal of increasing the family income
    • Scholarships for 350 students
    • Work with women and children with respect to their rights
    • Nutrition projects in schools
    • Production and commercialization of medicinal plants, and establishing of pharmacies and dispensaries
    affordable to the local people

Scarboro lay missioner Julia Duarte is an Ecuadorian working in Riobamba with her husband Tom Walsh and their children.
In addition to pastoral work for the Diocese of Riobamba, Julia also teaches at Christ the Good Shepherd Seminary and is working on a special program of education directed at youth and women in urban centres of the diocese.

Building a new Ecuador
(Taken from an interview with Bishop Vicente Eguiguren, president of the Ecuadorian Bishops Conference. Reprinted from Ladoc.)

“...FIRST, there needs to be a new political culture in Ecuador... Education in civic values is a fundamental point for long-term success.
SECOND, we need to insist on the unity of the nation. We need to avoid the fragmentation of the focus on the natural and civic unity, which is the reinforce municipalities, because that is where citizens are formed and the immediate problems, and solutions to problems, are analyzed.
THIRD, we need to strongly insist that the economic model is based on a human economy, an economy that is centred on the person...and the family.
FOURTH, we need to strengthen democracy...the right path is democracy, but it has to be improved and this is a daily task.”

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