By:Jan Mazotti Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:Heads of State
Distributing Opportunities to the People of Ecuador
Ecuador is in a transition. Education inequities, poverty, and trade concerns are just a few of the internal issues troubling the country. And 22 years after taking office, during the Biennial of the Americas, former President Rodrigo Borja (1988-1992) discussed his thoughts on democracy, educational inequalities, and the digital revolution, and his country’s most valuable economic assets. " Democracy is not simply the act of voting, but also the ability of the citizenry to participate economically and socially in the benefits produced by the democratic system." - Rodrigo Borja
For Borja, democracy is more than a form of government; it is a way to organize society – one based on political, social, and economic participation and integration. As an active member of the Global Center for Development and Democracy and an expert in Ecuadoran politics, Borja remarks, “Democracy is not simply the act of voting, but also the ability of the citizenry to participate economically and socially in the benefits produced by the democratic system.” It is something he believes in strongly in and remains passionate about. He says, “We have to make social reform that will redistribute educational justice, healthcare, and security opportunities. It is not a matter of distributing money, but rather distributing opportunities.”
Currently, education is a major initiative in Ecuador – with doubled spending on an annualized basis. While recognizing the progression of the current regime to enhance funding to education he hints at a rift between the haves and have-nots of his country. “The current digital revolution has helped create a knowledge society,” he says. “This society is dynamic, and there is a tendency for knowledge to be highly focused, exacerbating the concentration of physical property. Our response should be to spread electronic literacy and knowledge diffusion through massive computer availability.” He goes on, “There is more knowledge in a Sunday New York Times than a man in the 1700s had in a lifetime. Imbalance of knowledge can cause the same type of danger as an imbalance of wealth. There will always remain a division between those who are connected and those who are disconnected. We must always be aware that science moves with quick steps and ethics move slowly forward.” Obviously an advocate of access for all, no matter the socioeconomic status, Borja will continue to support educational equality.
According to Borja, Ecuador is absolutely interested in promoting economic growth through trade. In fact, his policies helped open Ecuador to foreign trade opportunities. Besides a rich agricultural presence, the country has rich petroleum reserves which make up about 40% of the countries GDP. Agriculturally rich, Ecuador’s most valuable exports include shrimp, bananas, coffee, rice, and chocolate. They too, are one of the largest exporters of flowers in the world.
Ecuador's active membership in global trade organizations and its participation in a number of regional free trade zones confirm the nation's trend toward liberalization and its commitment to open trade. Ecuador is a member of the World Trade Organization, the Andean Community, and the Latin American Integration Association. Ecuador has also completed bilateral free trade agreements with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela. They are negotiating a trade agreement with Mexico, and are engaged in trade talks with the Mercosur nations of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
Ecuador's application of free market principles, including the lowering of trade barriers, its participation in numerous international trade organizations, and a firm commitment to diversification of its economy and reform of its financial institutions, are helping to restore a favorable balance of trade and generally better the nation's economy. Borja reiterated, “Ecuador is a country that is open to legitimate outside foreign investment. Our most important objective is to make sure that foreign investors and the people of Ecuador receive equitable opportunities to take advantage of trading and that there is justice and protection with both sides.”
Historically, poverty has been higher in rural areas and has been characterized by a lack of education, a lack of access to land, and few non-agricultural employment opportunities. In several business surveys, Ecuador-based businesses would like to hire more permanent workers, but are deterred by a lack of educated workers, scarce credit, poor technological infrastructure, and general uncertainty in the overall business environment. " There is more knowledge in a Sunday New York Times than a man in the 1700s had in a lifetime. Imbalance of knowledge can cause the same type of danger as an imbalance of wealth." - Rodrigo Borja
The poor, but particularly women, have historically had limited access to the formal labor, land, and credit markets and thereby have lacked full political participation. However, the relatively strong economy that has blessed the country over the last five years has caused overall poverty declines in urban Ecuador, but rural and indigenous populations remain poor, with a relatively high poverty rate hovering near 35%-38% of total population. As a result of the high levels of rural poor, many international programs and projects have come into the country – most with little meaningful result.
Ecuador’s health systems are ranked relatively low by international standards, partly because of eratic government expenditures over the last two decades. In fact, healthcare expenditures have ranged from 0.6 to 1.3 percent of overall GDP in the same time frame. As a result, the volatility of government funding and the broad variety of indigenous groups with numerous languages and populations in remote areas have caused a lack of continuity in social health programming across the board. Estimates suggest that as much as 20 to 30 percent of Ecuador's population lack immediate access to health services, and 70 percent are without health insurance and do not have the means to pay for care. These marginalized groups often rely on traditional medicine and aid from volunteers and NGOs.
According to Borja, events like the Biennial, “really deepen the roots of understanding between countries. It is an opportuity to deepen the relationships and generate friendships — all of which leads to a better understanding between countries.”
Borja’s ideals and mission to bring reform to his country are well purposed, and 22 years after taking office, he remains committed to Ecuador. He is seen as a prominent figure who will challenge the system to elevate his country and push for meaningful improvement.