Memories of Ecuador

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By LUIZ ROBERTO ALVES*

It is necessary to think about different lines of investigation into Ecuador between 2015/2016 and 2023/2024, otherwise a handful of untruths will be reported.

Media texts and speeches contain expressions of immediate use and, therefore, pressure people to work with what is at hand. This text, however, is a variation of memory, a reference value for those who saw, talked to and heard Ecuadorians in public circumstances seven years ago. It does not represent search results; only a lived semiotics. However, this does not stop it from opening up research and knowledge about what goes beyond the struggle of gangs linked to drug trafficking, imported factions and rampant murders.

It is about showing a set of signs highlighted during the UN HABITAT III conference. Hosted in Quito from October 17 to 20, 2016, the meeting led by Joan Clos extensively discussed one of the basic objectives proposed by the General Assembly, that is, sustainable urban development. Therefore, a theme directly linked to the rights to the city, a portrait of citizenship.

Habitat II took place in Istanbul, June 1996, and was responsible for creating the housing dignity and sustainability agenda, which resulted in a lot of effort in cities and intermunicipal arrangements around the world, a phenomenon that continues and concerns the rights to city ​​and the city as a place for all people.

As expected, the many panels, round tables and posters seen and followed in Quito emphasized global poverty, government political experiences, the action of social movements and the desire to find reasonable… and sustainable solutions. In order not to broaden the focus, it is worth saying that Quito's final text, called “New Urban Agenda”, adheres to the 2030 Agenda and, although it did not require compliance with the results, suggested a “shared vision” of problems and needs. In 2019, the UN launched a guiding document for the New Urban Agenda (NAU/NUA).

In 2017, the film was presented internationally Quito Papers: Towards an Open City, directed by Dom Bagnato and Cassim Shepard. The film is born from one of the notable moments of the 2016 program in the capital of Ecuador, in which Joan Clos, Saskia Sassem, Ricky Burdett and Richard Sennett discussed a design for the world's urban future, work done in collaboration with experts.

Immediately, any UN conference participant could feel that the central space (House of Ecuadorian Culture e El Arbolito Park) of the city destined for Habitat III was very lively (30 thousand people, 18 thousand of them Ecuadorian), certainly warm, although soft in inter-individual conversations, quite questioning the future of the populated cities and guarded by soldiers and armed police.

However, there was no problem that affected individual and collective safety, but the good health system was working at full speed at those 2.850 meters high. This columnist was one of those treated for blood pressure. Furthermore, with hotels and inns filling up, the columnist himself, who took a while to book, visited a popular inn in a commercial area of ​​Quito, but central, where there were two padlocks to enter and exit, with express recommendations from the management and attendants in the sense of being very careful when walking the streets and, certainly, never walking at night.

The country did not require a visa from participants, with the exception of people coming from Eritrea, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Senegal and Cuba. Therefore, the general atmosphere of the UN meeting was positive, but it is worth considering that a driver consulted for a tour at the end of the conference had suggested: don't go to Guayaquil, (because there would be much better places to visit). In the end, the columnist hired the driver for a tour with several stops in beautiful places and a destination “to the center (or half) of the world”, at zero latitude, a space as peaceful as it is boring.

But it is not negligible to be in the “Middle of the World City”, despite the choice of the friendly driver-guide, who vetoed Guayaquil. Thinking about the large coastal city and its many internal and external connections implies a volume of alternative analyzes that are not enough either in the drug trafficking factions or in the exclusive blame on former president Correia and other targets that are currently in the crosshairs.

On July 26, 2016, preparatory time for the conference, there was a public document from the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, via the Brazilian embassy in Ecuador called “Automatic Retransmission”, originating from the Ecuadorian counterpart ministry. It reads – in translation – that Ecuadorian government bodies, including diplomats, responsible for organizing the large meeting, are meeting, demonstrating some concerns about hospitality in Quito, good reception from authorities, financial difficulties in paying official envoys and other details.

At no time, however, did anyone in the group show concern about the safety of the meeting. The text is attached to the general Habitat III program. The image that transpires is one of official imagery of confidence and optimism, distinct from the sensations and opinions of the people, which also balances social class attitudes. Quite possibly, the murmurs and concerns (signs and indices) of sectors of the population were anticipating the mediatized outbreaks, while the spaces of state power had other concerns.

The main thrust of the exhibitions presented by the Ecuadorian government, organizations and universities, in different parts of the city, focused on the work of urban communities and the relationships between architecture schools and innovations in cities. Serious urban problems were not highlighted (consider the difficult role of host country!) in the Ecuadorian exhibitions. In a set of reflections by participants, usually representatives of universities and other foreign institutions, organized after the big meeting, it was possible to find, among countless compliments, information about the existence of five x-ray equipment for the 30 thousand participants in the assembly.

Another reflection highlighted a question raised by a leader of one of the panels: will Ecuadorians be successful in urban acts of inclusion, security and resilience, which were experiences in which Brazil and Colombia had very little progress? It appears that there was no indicative response, in order to intrigue the author of the reflection compiled by the Habitat III organization.

The signs support a better understanding of the entire phenomenon, although they require careful research. At the very least, the idea of ​​an irruption of drug cartels, a kind of abrupt uprising, is ruled out. But they do not allow us to think that the Ecuadorian country had been undermined by factions and gangs for a long time. Or that Guayaquil was a den and Quito a vestal. By the way, media texts regarding the “civil war” in Ecuador have also appeared in recent weeks, without any analytical rigor. In any case, it is impossible for external gangs to emerge without local bases of support, or a significant set of components of urban life in the process of denying citizenship; This panorama is one of the most difficult and demanding for research, with a view to not allowing “guessing” or hasty conclusions.

A suggestion from a tourist driver to exchange a trip to Guayaquil in favor of “other better places” does not guarantee judgment from the city, as there would be several reasons for the warning and the choice, even the distance. However, the language of fear is the fear-index. Either way, the phenomenon is not negligible either, at least as a starting point for a better understanding of collective perceptions. You cannot throw stones in a city because it is a port, confusing and has a large population. The central issue is the way in which socio-public policies are organized, whether partial and clumsy, whether imposed, whether ineffective and even whether they have low communicational value, which is associated with the character of the media in the country.

A meeting like Habitat III, with the movement of 30 thousand people or more and good results in terms of security, suggests a stable and competent capital. Official city. The absence (felt and complained) of safety equipment and the little reference to the topic in preparatory documents do not immediately mean negligence or irresponsibility, but they do signal confidence in the common control apparatus. In 2016, the success of the assembly was not the result of chance, but sectors of Ecuadorian society were not mistaken in their perceptions of the signs that gave rise to the language of distrust and fear. How many other inns in popular areas would have locks on the doors and announcements to never walk the streets at night?

All of this seven years ago in modest appreciation as an observer-participant of Habitat III. And the choice of this time is useful for understanding, as some media texts refer to a very brief time in the country exclusively due to the importation and development of cartels and factions. Has Ecuadorian society been based, in recent years, on values ​​and procedures of social organization that, deep down, no longer maintained the vigor and security known and experienced? And what are the social costs of the image?

Strictly speaking, it is necessary to think about different lines of investigation about the beautiful country “center of the world” between 2015/2016 (probably before) and 2023/2024, under penalty of reporting a handful of untruths and, therefore, denying basic values ​​of the public information.

* Luiz Roberto Alves is a research professor at the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo and member of the Alfredo Bosi Chair at the Institute of Advanced Studies at USP, author, among other books, of Build Curricula, Train People and Create Educating Communities (Alameda, 396 pages.). [https://amzn.to/42bMONg]


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