Chronicling community action, revolutionary and revealing thought

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Social Forums and Social Issues

Social forums and Social Issues

Hello Parkdale people.  I write to you from Quito, Ecuador, 
at the Americas Social Forum. 

The week has been packed with seminars, panels, conferences,
roundtables and presentations of all kinds from speakers
across the Americas. 

While I appreciate the intention of this forum,
I found it, with the exception of
the indigenous and small farmers movement,  an
intellectual practice rather than a social movement that will
actually engage the common person, the community member
to push for change.

I read with interest OCAP´s latest campaign to help street vendors
in Toronto.  The same phenomenon is now happening here in
Quito where troops of police wander the streets of this colonial city
for the expressed purpose of preventing street vendors from
doing their business. 

This never happened before in the history of Ecuador.  The number of
police in the city reminds me of Toronto and makes me wonder if this
over-policing issue is part of the globalization process to keep poor
people in line in places with diminishing economic opportunities.

I find it fascinating to see Quito, a 500-year-old colonial city, once run
down and filled with poor people who streamed in from the countryside
due to lack of agrarian reform, now spotless, its newer districts entirely
modernized, and it´s colonial sector complete refurbished looking and feeling
like a museum. 

The only thing is:  the people are missing.

Downtown in the colonial district there used to be thousands of street vendors
and people living and breathing in those old crumbling colonial buildings and on
the streets.

Today, there are no street vendors at all in the colonial district because it is against
the law.  And in fact no people seem to live downtown anymore.  So while Quito has cleaned up its buildings, the price was paid by the poor that once lived there.  Today you see few poor people at all downtown and virtually no street people like you see in Toronto.  In fact, Quito looks like a far richer city than Toronto. 

But I also found Manhattan cleaned up the same way.  There were no street people
like there once was in the 1980s when I visited last year, and no more tent and cardboard cities.  Mayor Gugliani mopped up the place. 

The same has happened in Quito.  While more than 70 per cent of people in this country
live in poverty, the city reflects an affluence which the country itself cannot afford. 

I wonder if we are living in a time of virtual economies.  Three million Ecuadorians
emigrated from this country during the last ten years due to a lack of employment, and next to oil, the money sent home from these expatriats is the largest source of revenue for Ecuador.
And yet you would not be able to tell the poverty of Ecuador from looking at Quito.

Tomorrow we will be filming in a poor neighbourhood in Quito to find out what is really
happening here.