History With Some Inevitable Loose Ends

Report #6 from Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

The “Ecological Plan for the Development of Canton Sucre (Bahia de Caraquez)” is finally finished! Last Thursday, February 15, six months after the first tentative draft was circulated to instigate a community process for its full development, a public meeting in City Hall solicited and added final comments and suggestions to complete the document.

An openly invited group (that was larger than we had foreseen) assembled to achieve this step. Four unexpected City Council members accompanied the mayor. About thirty principals from active groups and businesses in the ecological city movement appeared and there were several new faces as well: the woman president of the Mangles 2000 housing project, an architect in charge of church restoration to represent Padre Xavier, the mayor’s wife Michelle, and about fifteen students led by a professor from the Catholic University. Mayor Leo opened with a forceful speech that gave an overview of the cumulative process to make an ecological plan, recognized the previous contributions of many who were in the room, stressed the central importance of creating a genuine ecological city, and invoked the potential for future generations as well as advantages for present residents. Prior to hearing him speak I had imagined Michelle to be the environmental activist of the two because she expressed herself freely about different concerns every time we spoke. But now Leo also projected an obviously personal point of view and couldn’t have put the case better. The crowd was ready to take everything that followed seriously.

In his first community gathering appearance as head of the new municipal Department of Tourism and Environment, Patricio (Patrick) Rivadenerra outlined a meeting agenda that called for reading the current version of the plan followed by audience members breaking up into smaller interest groups to write additions or revisions to what they heard. Each person was also given a folder with a copy of the plan. Surprisingly, no one asked significant questions when Patrick finished reading. A few people were satisfied to leave at this point, but most were eager to stay and join vocal and busy groups that developed for recycling, agriculture and ecosystems, education, and the students who seemed to take an overall perspective. (The City Council members and mayor also remained as their own separate entity, heightening the down-to-business feeling while they caucused about various pending issues.) It was reassuring for the intention of wide public participation to see such a high level of enthusiasm. When they were done, each group’s secretary handed in a sheet of proposals. Gabriela, Amy, Patrick, Marco, and I met to review and incorporate the suggestions which eventually added one-fifth more to the proposed plan’s text. It is being written up now for presentation on Tuesday to the City Council’s Commission on the Environment before being brought for approval to the whole council. This entire process will eventually involve legal review and may take several sessions that could stretch over months. But that’s official business. From the community’s perspective, a guiding document that grew out of its own concerns has finally been born. It is the most important moment for realizing the dream of urban transformation here since the original Ecological City Declaration two years ago. (Complete plan text follows.)

Gabriela Chejtman’s dedicated work and professionalism has made her a fixture for environmental oversight in just a month. Besides monitoring recycling of organic material in the central public mercado (market), she researches ways to control pollution from the city’s sewage, studies general environmental conditions to make specific proposals, assists Patrick’s new department as its environmental consultant, and prepares to coordinate new revegetation projects in four of Bahia’s barrios that Stuarium Foundation will soon undertake. It is her unpleasant duty to write numerous memoranda on outstanding problematic issues such as extensive pollution of the river and seashore or the need to immediately close the city’s garbage landfill (a position Amy completely supports). Because nay-saying, even for the best reasons, can cause her to become associated with only bad and worse news, I encourage her to remind the mayor that this kind of reality reporting will phase out in a relatively short time after which he can discover that she also possesses an advanced sense of humor.

The revegetation project cum city park in Maria Auxiliadora barrio has ten colorful new informational plaques to act as a kind of path for the eye. They will be installed (mostly hanging by resin-treated braided rope from tree branches) starting next Monday.

Amy assisted Michelle in applying for British government grants to assist two large projects: revegetation of eroded hillsides from Astillero to Kilometro Ocho, and conversion of Bahia’s garbage service into a recycling agency (see previous January-February reports for details). The municipality and Planet Drum Foundation will be joint recipients if the grant proposals are approved. I’ve begun looking into ways to get matching funds from international institutions, and also unashamedly invite all donations or leads from readers. Remember to multiply any contribution by a minimum of five times to sense the impact in Ecuador: $100 equals at least $500 in accomplished work.

You may have suspected from the last few comments that things are winding down for this visit. Amy Jewel is more than capable of keeping things that still need attention on track in the month more that she stays. Look for her reports later. For six months before I return next August, there’s the whole largely untouched issue of alternative energy to explore, as well as alternative transportation beginning with an anticipated planning grant for establishing bicycle (and cargo tricycle) lanes. Planet Drum has established an amiable relationship with Ecuador’s Consul General Fernando Flores in San Francisco that undoubtedly will result in another public event such as the benefit to aid our work which he introduced last year, or other kinds of assistance for Bahia. For example, if anyone knows how to obtain 10,000 tablets of the expensive non-generic medicine Albendazol for combating stomach parasites in children, that’s the quantity that Dr. Leo feels is necessary annually in Canton Sucre. I could only afford a hundred tablets for dispensing to some poor families at his request just a week or so before returning this time. I’m new to this type of medical emergency. Should we start a campaign asking doctors in more affluent countries for their samples from the manufacturer? Any other ideas?

Note on Ecuador’s continuing social upheaval. In the week after a national Estado de Emergencia (State of Emergency) when clearly something had to give, the government gave. It recognized significant parts of the indigenous peoples’ program including some truly overdue concessions such as reduced public transportation fares for children, aged and handicapped persons. The first demand to be officially granted is a freeze on gasoline prices at the present cost regardless of future inflation; the other half-dozen mostly economic measures will be negotiated later. Particularly interesting in the aftermath of the uprising is that Auki Tituana, mayor of Canton Cotacachi which is the other place in Ecuador that declared itself an ecological municpalidad and developed a plan similar to Bahia’s, was a strong figure on the indigenous side of the resolution. “Not only those that study at Harvard are geniuses,” Auki noted in accounting for the mother wit of native leadership. He predicts a dual level of future governance in Ecuador for the diverse but internally homogenous native people. It will consist of the national government on one hand and a large national organization led by indigenous councils on the other. Auki’s involvement indicates that this organization could feature a substantial ecological commitment. Look for it in the next set of demands.

Cuisine note. When I couldn’t continue to walk by them in the mercado because of timidity about local seafood standards, I gave into an atavistic longing and bought the first modest dozen of Ecuador’s famous black clams. They would go into a rice dish eventually, but I boiled the shellfish as soon as I could to remove any lingering doubts. A sufficient number opened and the steaming one I ate was tender and tasty. The dark leftover water became a base for boiling rice. Then I concocted a sauce of green peppers (like many vegetables they have a more concentrated flavor here), onions, garlic, lime, salt, dried basil, cumin, and Ecuador’s national aji chili sauce in a small amount of oil. The clams went into it just long enough to warm up and the sauce was ready to pour over rice. Amy declared it “Gourmet!” as she walked in the door from the appetizing scent alone, and devouring this meal with several glasses of local pilsener beer proved her right.

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