While spending a semester studying abroad in Ecuador, Bwogger in exile, Sara Vogel, fell into an internship with the press office in Ciudad Eloy Alfaro, where the country’s brightest and finest (we hope!) are hard at work forming the Republic of the Equator all over again, and for the 21st time. Her dispatch:
I just got a text message from Luis Hernández, a bald ex-colonel in the Ecuadorian military and one of the 130 people charged with writing the country’s new constitution. It reads:
“Hola, como estas? Soy Luis Hernandez. Cuando conversamos sobre la democracia y la libertad de expresión en USA?”
(for the Spanish-challenged: “Hey, how are you? It’s Luis Hernandez. When are we going to talk about democracy and freedom of expression in the US?”)
I didn’t expect text messages
stalking after I interviewed Sr. Hernández as an intern for the Ecuadorian Constitutional Assembly’s press office. But I also never thought SIT Study Abroad would be able to deliver a job like this for the three-week long final independent study project all SIT students must diligently complete. Maybe it was less the program that set me down in this over-air conditioned office, and more the networks of friendship and patronage that grease the wheels of Ecuadorian politics generally: SIT’s directors knew a woman who knew a guy who knew a guy.
And now, I wander the halls and cubicles of the assembly building, which has the aspect of a high school gym in lighting, ceiling height, and frantic activity, looking for interviews with the people who have the power to dictate how Ecuador works – theoretically for eternity, but at least for the next 10 years.
After a few digital back-and-forths, it was determined that the Colonel and I will have lunch this week in the Assembly’s cafeteria, where I know there will be plenty of people around. Extravagant by Ecuadorian standards, the cafeteria is free for staff and there are always two kinds of meat with rice to choose from, a soup, a vegetable, and a dessert. I heard from my host-mom that they spend $5,000 weekly to feed all of the asembleistas, advisors, and the personales de apoyo like me. In a country where the average family of 5 needs $450 a month to meet their basic needs, that’s quite an expense.
The latest Constitutional Assembly is the product of a few years of political tumult. When hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians stormed the streets of Quito to depose of its last officially elected but very corrupt president in 2005, they also chanted “que se vayan todos,” calling for the expulsion of its entire congress. The new president, a young, left-leaning, and many say guapo economist, Rafael Correa, stepped into power in 2006 and made the people’s demands a reality. He dissolved the country’s legislative body and fulfilled his campaign promise to commission an assembly to rewrite the constitution. Right now, they are also passing emergency legislation in the congress’ absence.
That means that while he might not be a member of the dominant political party, Hernández is still one of the most powerful people in the country.
That doesn’t make him any less creepy.
Update 4-30: We had lunch. And despite all of the catcalls that have come at me from all sides in this place, he didn’t follow the trend, and we actually did talk about democracy and freedom of expression.
To read more dispatches from Columbians abroad, check out Off Broadway