Vilma Vargas Uncensored: the Caricaturist drawing circles around Ecuador´s attacks on freedom of expression

What happens to a democracy when its journalists and artists are too afraid to criticise those in power and express themselves freely?

This is one of the questions we ask Vilma Vargas – a rising talent in the Ecuadorian art scene who was twice selected for the “World Press Cartoon” in Portugal and awarded first prize at RESET 11.11.11 in Mexico for best caricaturist.

Under the current Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa the coerced closures of numerous media stations that do not comply with the new Law of Communication as well as lawsuits seeking millions in damages against journalists, some who have been forced out of work and threatened with imprisonment, physically assaulted and had their family homes raided at gunpoint by government officials have all contributed to what Vargas calls “one of the gravest moments” the free press in her country has ever faced.

This however hasn´t intimidated Vargas into censoring her outspoken style and while other Ecuadorian journalists have become fearful of rocking the boat her caricatures stand out like a Cotopaxi-sized-pimple on President Correa´s chin.

A Woman in a Profession Dominated by Men

Chekhov: When the newspaper El Comercio asked six artists to draw a comic with the theme “If Superheroes lived in Ecuador” you where the only woman selected. Does that mean there are 5 male artists for every female or do you think artists of your gender are often overlooked?

Vilma Vargas: Ecuador is characterized as having several renowned artists, as well as many caricaturists. Unfortunately in the realm of graphic humour there are some women who remain in the shadows and very few who have won a place in the press. But in graphic humour like it is in other areas: women are still relegated to second place.

Also history has always been written by men. In the history of art, there exists several women artists, sculptors, philosophers, between other important women that have also been looked over.

Chekhov: What advice can you give to younge female artists searching for their artistic voice and fighting to be noticed in the world?

Vilma Vargas: I believe that in my country, women and people in general are more worried about how to solve their basic needs than perform some type of art. However people who do choose to have an artistic vocation should know that art is a way of life where you need to embrace risk and to express yourself is the best form of freedom.

Chekhov: Then for art to become a lifestyle you need to focus on it 100% which is one of the reasons you left your career in architecture?

Vilma Vargas: I believe it was more of a necessity. Passions sometimes impose and its necessary to renounce certain areas of your life to focus on creative work. But I haven’t abandoned architecture completely, its just that “art” wont let me abandon it at all.

On Government Attacks Against Freedom of Expression

Chekhov: Do you receive enough from your caricatures published in the newspaper Hoy to support this lifestyle or do you need to find other sources of income?

Vilma Vargas: Like you know, the press is passing through one of its gravest ever moments because of government harassment regarding freedom of expression and that has affected various media outlets, including the newspaper where I work. I live off my drawings, illustrations, and ceramic murals.

"Press Freedom"
“Press Freedom”

Chekhov: One of the major themes to your work is Freedom of Expression, can you tell us the meaning behind drawings of yours like the one of Press Freedom being attacked by bats?

Vilma Vargas: That drawing is based on an engraving by Goya called: “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”. – What I wanted it to represent is the press being attacked by various shadows.

The worst part is reality is not like the caricature, if you have a different opinion you will not be disturbed by innocent bats but with the entire weight of the law which almost always responds with the interests of the Government.

Chekhov: What happens to a democracy when journalists fear investigating and criticizing those who are in power?

Vilma Vargas: First there wouldn’t be a democracy, because if not, you wouldn’t be afraid to have an opinion, to criticize others or yourself. The latent risk with these measures and pressures and media laws that infringe on our freedoms is that journalists and news media will start self-censoring, which impairs peoples ability to get information or adequate research on various topics.

The “Legalization” of Attacks Against Journalism

Ecuador´s new "Law of Communication"
Ecuador´s new “Law of Communication”

Chekhov: What is the new Law of Communication in Ecuador like and in your caricature who are the people in suits and ties coming out of the Trojan horse?

Vilma Vargas: Even before the implementation of the “Law of Communications” there was some pressure and harassment through various means. Now the only thing its done is “legalize” these practices. In the drawing I represent a law disguised as a gift which is lawful but inside swarm several beings that already have incorporated prohibitions in mind.

Chekhov: Can you tell us about the correlation between what is happening on the national level with respect to the journalists who fear criticizing president Correa and how that has empowered politicians on the municipal level to threaten, harass, and force out of work journalists who are investing municipal corruption like Ignacio Ramos Mancheno?

Vilma Vargas: The problem is that the government only believes in what they say and they put together an entire strategy on the Saturday TV Broadcast Chains to convince us of “their truth”. Thus, it is normal that there are lots of clashes with voices outside of the ruling party.

The former mayor of Riobamba, Juan Salazar, in jail for corruption.
The former mayor of Riobamba, Juan Salazar, in jail under investigation for corruption.

I don’t know very well the story behind Ignacio’s case, but its clear that like many other people working in the press they have closed the doors on him for not agreeing with the powers that be. Graphic humour is monitored as well, we can already see cases where caricaturists have been mentioned in the Saturday TV Broadcast Chains.

Chekhov: Can you tell us about my favourite caricature, The Zebra Cow, and how social networks helped spread messages like this caricatures and other images from citizen journalists in their fight to unseat and imprison the former mayor Juan Salazar on corruption?

Vilma Vargas: Its been a long time since I touched the themes of my city owing to bad experiences I had with the directors of a certain newspaper that censured my drawings, however given the importance of the issue, I was again expressing my opinion about the city and from that came the drawing of the mayor from which I understand did not offer any grace to his followers.

Drilling for oil in the most biodiverse place on the planet
Drilling for oil in the most biodiverse place on the planet

Chekhov: Recently a lot of your caricatures are focused on President Correas decision to drill inside the Yasuni National Park for oil. Can you tell us your feelings about the Yasuni and if you had the opportunity to visit it when you were painting the mural for the bus terminal at Coca?

Vilma Vargas: In effect, I had the opportunity to paint the Mural of el Coca and see the breathtaking nature we have. The city of Coca is a population that has been generated because of the extraction of petroleum.

Concerning the refusal to conserve the Yasuni is not up to the government to decide, its a decision of the country, its something that concerns us all. With this news the world will realise that we have a government that doesn’t give priority to conserving the natural wonders of Ecuador.

Vilma Vargas art
“Executive – Legislative – Judicial”

Chekhov: After the journalist Emilio Palacio wrote that President Correa was a dictator he fled to the United States where he received political asylum to escape three years in jail and 4 million dollars in damages. If you continue to draw caricatures of President Correa like the one with three heads that represent the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government have you thought of the possibility that one day you to might have to leave the country if you wish to continue expressing yourself freely?

Vilma Vargas: To report and make art or say what one thinks always brings risks. To be free and feel differently too.

While my lucidity has permitted me to continue drawing it may sound counter-intuitive, but the worse the country gets, the more work there is for us caricaturists.

Chekhov: You can see more of Vilmas art on her website:

Sin censura: Vilma Vargas sin rodeos en torno a la libertad de expresión en Ecuador

vilma-vargas2“¿Qué pasa con una democracia cuando los periodistas y artistas tienen miedo de expresar libremente sus críticas a quienes están en el poder?”, es una de las preguntas que hacemos a Vilma Vargas, un talento en ascenso en el mundo del arte ecuatoriano. Fue seleccionada dos veces para el “World Press Cartoon” en Portugal y ganadora en RESET 11.11.11 en México como mejor caricaturista.

Bajo el mandato de Rafael Correa, actual presidente de Ecuador, el incumplimiento de la nueva Ley de Comunicación ha provocado sanciones, e incluso cierres, de algunos medios de comunicación. Además, ha habido demandas millonarias y amenazas contra periodistas, quienes en algunos casos se han visto obligados a abandonar el país. Esta situación ha contribuido a lo que Vilma Vargas señala como el “momento más grave en lo que a libertad de prensa se refiere”.

Sin embargo, esto no ha intimidado a Vargas, que ha continuado con su estilo franco; y mientras muchos caricaturistas ecuatorianos se han vuelto cautos a la hora de publicar sus trabajos, las de Vilma se destacan por su irreverencia.

Una Mujer en una profesión dominada por hombres

Chekhov: Cuando el diario El Comercio pidió a seis artistas dibujar un cómic con el tema “Si los superhéroes vivieran en Ecuador”… usted era la única mujer seleccionada. ¿Significa esto que hay cinco artistas masculinos para cada artista femenina en Ecuador, o cree que los artistas de su género a menudo se pasan por alto?

Vilma Vargas: El Ecuador se caracteriza por tener varios artistas de renombre, así como muchos caricaturistas. Lastimosamente, en el humor gráfico hay algunas mujeres que aún están en la sombra y somos muy pocas quienes nos hemos ganado un lugar en la prensa. Pero en el humor gráfico es como en otras áreas: las mujeres aún están relegadas a un segundo plano.

Además, la historia siempre está escrita por hombres. En la historia del Arte han existido varias mujeres artistas, escultoras y pensadoras; sin embargo, pese a su importancia, se las ha pasado por alto.

Diario El Comercio
Diario El Comercio

Chekhov:¿Qué consejos puede darles a las jóvenes artistas femeninas que buscan su voz artística y que luchan para que el mundo presta atención a su arte?

Vilma Vargas: Creo que en mi país las mujeres y la gente en general está más preocupada en solventar sus necesidades básicas que en realizar algún tipo de arte. Sin embargo, la gente que opta por alguna actividad artística debe saber que el arte es un modo de vida. Y arriesgarse y expresarse es la mejor forma de libertad.

Chekhov: Entonces, para que este se convierta en un modo de vida, hay que enfocarse ciento por ciento al arte. ¿Esta es una de las razones por las que usted dejó su carrera de arquitectura?

Vilma Vargas: Creo que fue una necesidad; las pasiones a veces se imponen y son necesarias ciertas renuncias para enfocarte en el trabajo creativo. Sin embargo, no he dejado del todo la arquitectura, sólo que es el arte quien no me deja que lo abandone…

Acoso Gubernamental Contra la Libertad de Expresión

Chekhov: ¿Con los caricaturas que publica en el periódico Hoy recibe suficiente para mantenerse, o tiene que buscar otras fuentes de ingresos?

Vilma Vargas: Como sabes, la prensa atraviesa uno de los más graves momentos por el acoso gubernamental en cuanto a la libertad de expresión y eso ha afectado a varios medios, incluído el Diario en el que colaboro. Por lo que yo vivo de mis dibujos, ilustraciones, murales en cerámica y también un poco del aire.

"Press Freedom"
“Press Freedom”

Chekhov: La libertad de expresión es uno de los temas más abordados en sus caricaturas. ¿Puede contarnos cuál es la importancia de la libertad de expresión y el significado existente detrás de dibujos como el de la libertad de prensa atacada por murciélagos?

Vilma Vargas: Ese es un dibujo que está basado en un grabado de Goya, que se llama “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos”. Lo que hice fue representar a la prensa acosada por varias sombras.

Lo malo es que la realidad no es como la caricatura; si aquí opinas diferente no te verás perturbado por inocentes murciélagos sino por todo el peso de una ley que responde casi siempre a los intereses del Gobierno.

Chekhov: ¿Qué le ocurre a una democracia cuando los periodistas tienen miedo de investigar y criticar a quienes ostentan el poder?

Vilma Vargas: En primer lugar ya no sería democracia, caso contrario no tendrías miedo de opinar, de criticar o de autocriticarte, inclusive. El riesgo latente con éstas medidas de presión y leyes de comunicación que atentan a nuestras libertades es que los periodistas y medios periodísticos ejercerán una autocensura, que a los únicos que perjudican es a la gente porque no te llega la información o la investigación adecuada de varios temas.

La “Legalización” del acoso contra el periodismo

La nueva Ley de Comunicación
La nueva Ley de Comunicación

Chekhov: ¿Cómo es la nueva Ley de Comunicación de Ecuador y quiénes son las personas de traje y corbata que, en su caricatura, salen del Caballo de Troya?

Vilma Vargas: Antes de la “Ley de Comunicación” ya existía cierta presión y acoso a varios medios. Ahora lo único que se hizo fue la “legalización” de esas prácticas. En el dibujo represento una ley disfrazada de regalo y de legalidad, pero que en su interior pululan varios seres que, en su pensamiento, ya tienen incorporadas las prohibiciones.

Chekhov: ¿Puede contarnos acerca de la correlación entre lo que está sucediendo a nivel nacional con respecto a los periodistas que tienen miedo de criticar al presidente Correa y cómo este ha colocado políticos en el nivel municipal para amenazar, hostigar y dejar sin trabajo a periodistas que investigaban casos de corrupción municipal, como el caso de Ignacio Ramos Mancheno?

Vilma Vargas: El problema que tiene el Gobierno es creer que lo que ellos dicen es la verdad y armar todo un aparato ideológico en las cadenas sabatinas para convencernos de “su verdad”. Así, es normal que existan muchos roces con voces no oficialistas.

El Alcalde Juan Salazar preso, acusado por corrupción.
El Alcalde Juan Salazar preso, acusado por corrupción.

Yo no conozco muy a fondo el caso de Ignacio, pero es visible que a él como a muchas personas se le han cerrado las puertas laborales por no comulgar con el poder. Incluso el humor está monitoreado, pues podemos ver casos de caricaturistas que han sido mencionados en las sabatinas.

Chekhov: En referencia a mi caricatura favorita, “la vaca cebra”, ¿puede contarnos cómo las redes sociales fueron claves en el momento de divulgar mensajes como el de esta caricatura, y de los periodistas y ciudadanos que lucharon para encarcelar, por corrupción, al ex-alcalde Juan Salazar?

Vilma Vargas: Hace mucho tiempo que yo no tocaba los temas de mi ciudad debido a malas experiencias con los directivos de cierto diario local que censuraban mis dibujos. Sin embargo, dada la importancia del tema, nuevamente estoy opinando sobre la ciudad en las redes sociales; de allí viene el dibujo del alcalde, que tengo entendido no le hizo ninguna gracia a sus partidarios. Es así, que las redes sociales son muy importantes para difundir las voces divergentes.

Logo de la campaña Ecuador ama la vida

Drilling for oil in the most biodiverse place on the planet
Logo de la campaña Ecuador ama la vida

Chekhov: Muchas de tus caricaturas recientes se centran en el tema del Parque Nacional Yasuní y de la decisión del Presidente Correa de explotar el petróleo. ¿Puede hablarnos de sus sentimientos sobre el Yasuní. ¿Ha tenido la oportunidad de visitar este lugar?

Vilma Vargas: Tuve la oportunidad de pintar un mural en el Coca y ver la sobrecogedora naturaleza que tenemos. La ciudad de El Coca es una población que se formó alrededor de la extracción petrolera.

En cuanto a la explotación del Yasuní, ésta no debe ser una decisión únicamente del Gobierno, sino de toda la población del país, porque es algo que nos concierne a todos. Con esta noticia, el mundo puede darse cuenta que tenemos un gobierno para el que no es prioridad conservar las maravillas naturales del Ecuador.

Los riesgos de ser libre y de opinar diferente

Vilma Vargas art
“Ejecutivo – Legislativo – Judicial”

Chekhov: Después de que el periodista Emilio Palacio escribió que la presidencia de Correa era una dictadura, tuvo que buscar asilo político en Estados Unidos para escapar de tres años de cárcel y de una indemnización de 4 millones de dólares… Si usted continúa dibujando caricaturas de Presidente Correa, como la que aparece con tres cabezas que representan los tres poderes del Estado, ¿ha pensado en la posibilidad de que algún día usted también tendrá que salir el país si quiere seguir expresándose libremente?

Vilma Vargas: Denunciar y hacer arte o decir lo que uno piensa siempre trae sus riesgos. Ser libre y opinar diferente también. Mientras mi lucidez me lo permita seguiré dibujando porque, aunque puede sonar contradictorio, mientras más mal le va al país, más trabajo tenemos los caricaturistas.

Más sobre Vilma en su página web:

Luis Solis del ACNUR en Ecuador sobre los refugiados Colombianos buscando asilo en Ecuador


colombia_armyHoy en Chekhov’s Kalashnikov vamos a hablar con Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca cuyo trabajo es proteger y defender a algunas de personas más vulnerables y olvidadas del mundo – refugiados que han huido de la guerra civil Colombiana en busca de asilo en la Amazonía Ecuatoriana.

Chekhov: Puedes explicarnos tu trabajo, el organizacion en donde trabajas, y en que especializas?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: Trabajo en dos áreas a través del proyecto un proyecto con ACNUR (Alto Comisionado de NN.UU para refugiados) 1.- Asesoría y defensa de persona con necesidad de protección internacional, en este caso especialmente para refugiados Colombianos que son la mayoría de personas que necesitan protección internacional por el conflicto interno Colombiano y 2.- En asesoría y defensa de casos donde se hayan violado los derechos humanos, los últimos casos que hemos tenido ha sido contra violaciones de derechos humanos por parte de la policía.

[pullquote align=”right”]PARA LOS REFUGIADOS:
si vienen a Ecuador lo primero que deben hacer es acercarse a alguna organización de Derechos Humanos o ACNUR en Ecuador,

informarse sobre el refugio y luego solicitarlo antes de que se cumplan los 15 días de llegado al país, caso contrario el gobierno Ecuatoriano no considerará su solicitud.

En la frontera norte de Ecuador pueden contactar:
– Servivio Jesuita para refugiados
– Fundación Tarabita
– Asylum Access Ecuador
– Federación de mujeres de Sucumbios
– Oxfam
– Comité de Derechos Humanos de Orellana,
– Defensoría del Pueblo de Sucumbios y Orellana
– Cualquier otra sede, estas organizaciones trabajamos en refugio y podemos brindar asesoría.
Chekhov: Que son los estadísticos, pues el número de Colombianos refugiados que está viviendo en Ecuador y especialmente en las provincias de Sucumbíos y Orellana?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: bueno en Ecuador hay alrededor de 56.000 refugiados de los cuales el 90% son de nacionalidad Colombiana! Los otros nacionalidades son de diferentes nacionalidades! existen palestinos, haitianos, españoles, cubanos etc

Chekhov: y como el gobierno Ecuatoriano se trata los refugiados colombianos en comparison de refugiados de otras naciones

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: bueno hay que recordar que la mayor parte de los refugiados colombianos fue reconocida en Ecuador con el registro ampliado en 2009-2010, luego del bombardeo a Angostura. Hasta el 2012 la legislación ecuatoriana era menos rigurosa como la es desde la expedición del decreto 1182 de 30 de mayo de 2012 donde restringue mucho el acceso al refugio.

Ha escuchado en diferentes espacios la posición del gobierno de que los refugiados son un gasto para el país principalmente los Colombianos que son mayoría sin embargo no se ha tenido en cuenta el aporte que han realizado a la economía ecuatoriana con su fuerza de trabajo y microempresas en general el gobierno con la expedición de este decreto restringio mucho el acceso al derecho al refugio, tanto que del 100% de solicitudes de refugio apenas el 4% son aceptadas cuando antes del decreto se aceptaban cerca del 60%

Chekhov: y son refugiados legítimos que están rechazando ahora?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: en su mayoría si, las personas tienen elementos de refugio además con tan bajos porcentajes casi todos quedan fuera.

Chekhov: y que pasa si rechazan el asilo de uno, tienen que volver a Colombia o siguen en ecuador?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: ese es el problema, en muchos casos cuando hay elementos de refugio, necesidad de protección internacional, no pueden volver.

[quote style=”1″]Se supone que una persona refugiada es aquella a quien su país de origen no la protege o no quiere que la proteja, por lo tanto si se acerca a solicitar refugio en otro país es por la necesidad de protección, ya sea que un grupo armado regular o irregular, la persigue, la amenaza, teme por su vida por sus expresiones políticas, sociales, raciales etc.

En muchos casos hemos visto que la gente permanece en Ecuador de manera indocumentada lo que le coloca en una situación de vulneración, puede ser explotada laboralmente, sexualmente.[/quote]Esto debido a que el actual decreto del gobierno (1182) dejo fuera de sus numerales el derecho de poder reconocer a personas víctimas de violencia generalizada que lo tenía la ley anterior y fue una declaración que Ecuador la incorporó, esta se dió en Cartagena, se le conoce como la declaración de Cartagena, pero ya no esta contemplad en la legislación Ecuatoriana. Que era parte de la ley y por tanto se debía aplicar

La vida para refugiados menos famosa que Julian Assange


assange asilo
Julian Assange in Ecuador´s London Embassy

Chekhov: todo el mundo ha escuchado del refugiado más conocido de Ecuador, el Australiano Julian Assange, puedes contarnos de unos refugiados que han huido de violencia en Colombia pero son olvidados del estado Ecuatoriano y el resto del mundo?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: …lo que dices es justamente una contradicción en la que cae el estado ecuatoriano, ya que a nivel mundial y de forma fundamentada dió asilo a Assange y un pase para Snowden, sin embargo la vida de los refugiados colombianos no esta tan fácil.

El hecho de salir huyendo de un conflicto de más de 50 años es muy complicado, llegar a un país distinto aunque cercano, tener que buscar donde vivir, en que trabajar, donde educar a los hijos…Son cuestiones que realmente dan que pensar…

[pullquote align=”right”]
“Hasta junio de 2013, el Estado ecuatoriano ha reconocido a 55.141 personas refugiadas en el país. Desde el año 2000, en que había 390 refugiados, 168.525 personas han solicitado la condición de refugiado en el Ecuador. Cerca del 23% de ellos son niños, niñas y adolescentes.” El ACNUR en Ecuador

Testimonios de Refugiados Colombianos en Ecuador

Mucha gente que es refugiada en Ecuador y que han huido del conflicto colombiano tan solo han podido traer sus documentos de identidad y su acceso a derechos aún es muy precario, generalmente son las mismas autoridades que crean sistemas donde no se registra por ejemplo el número de visa de refugio, eso sucede mucho en la seguridad social, o en la educación.

Luego también vienen a ser vulnerables ya que empiezan a realizar trabajos donde son mal remunerados, siendo caracterizados como mano de obra barata, en otras ocasiones no les cancelan sus derechos laborales..

Esto en el caso de quienes pueden trabajar, el resto tendrá que ver como se gana la vida en algún trabajo informal, más bien explotados por su situación de movilidad humana que es decir las soluciones no han podido ser integrales, existe mucho aún por hacer en materia de refugio, si bien estamos de acuerdo que no es solo un problema de Ecuador sino internacional, pero creo que el gobierno debe tratar con más atención a este sector.

Ejercito Ecuatoriano
Ejercito Ecuatoriano

[quote style=”1″]Los problemas más fuertes que se dan son en las zonas de frontera donde la población tanto Ecuatoriana como Colombiana vive aún situación de incertidumbre

Ya que hay vulneración de derechos por parte del ejército Ecuatoriano, ejército Colombiano, grupos armados, es decir una población en una línea de fuego.[/quote]

Mujeres y Niños Refugiados Colombianos


refugiadas colombianas
La Federación de Mujeres de Sucumbíos tiene programa de atención integral a mujeres refugiadas de Colombia, donde se promovemos el fin de la impunidad para los casos de violencia de género contra las mujeres.

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: Además hay que recordar que casi el 70% de refugiados son mujeres y niños

Chekhov: y que paso con los padres y los maridos?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: han muchos motivos, fueron asesinados, están desaparecidos, o son mujeres solas, o vendrán después…

Por parte de ACNUR y otras organizaciones socias como nosotros el Comité de Derechos Humanos de Orellana, hemos tratado de ayudar, brindar asesoría para que los derechos no sean vulnerados, sin embargo el número que atendemos sigue siendo poco en comparación con la población refugiada.

La Crisis Mundial de Refugio


Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: El tema de la crisis mundial de Refugio como bien sabes no es un fenómeno que ve acabarse en poco tiempo, más bien la situación a empeorado, principalmente en Medio Oriente, Siria, Norte de África y como van las cosas incluso habrá más refugiados climáticos por las condiciones adversas en las que se desarrolla el mundo….

Por eso creo que la solución no es tan solo jurídica, social, sino en el fondo es POLITICA.

Chekhov: En Australia ahora hay una campaña electoral en donde los dos partidos políticos están tratando de demostrar a un electorado xenófobo y a veces racista, “quien puede crear medidas políticas más duras contra los refugiados para mandar un mensaje?” que dices a estes politicos?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: …lo que pasa que a nivel mundial se trata de hacer creer que las crisis económicas, la falta de empleo se debe a que refugiados, migrantes económicos son los que quitan empleo, sin embargo esto es solo una apariencia para ocultar la verdad, que es que las crisis, falta de empleo es por la acumulación del capital en pocas manos, en la minoría, menos del 1% de la población…estos discurso tiene pegue en épocas de crisis mundiales, económicas, y la población común algunas veces suele creerles..

Por ello es importante hacer una crítica más profunda sobre de donde realmente viene estos discursos. Discursos apoyados por grandes medios que lo repiten hasta que calan en la mente de la población.

[quote style=”1″]Hay que ponerse en el lugar de los migrantes, refugiados y entender su realidad, no se puede restringir el derecho al refugio, ya que es un derecho humano, y los gobiernos en cualquier parte del mundo deben respetarlo…[/quote]

Los Refugiados de Santos y Uribe


santos y uribe Chekhov: quiero preguntarte de los grupos armados: paracos, militares, FARC, cuáles están causando más violaciones contra los derechos humanos?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: generalmente creo que el ejército y los paramilitares. Pero la guerrilla en Colombia parece que ya olvido sus orígenes, y existen muchos campesinos perseguidos, otros muertos.

Lo que sucede es que es un campo de guerra, una pagan por control donde los grupos armados no ven razones en muchos casos, si ven a un campesino atemorizado, amenazado dando agua a los paramilitares o ejército son tildados por la guerrilla de informantes o viceversa.

Chekhov: y el nivel de refugiados abajo del ex-presidente Alvaro Uribe en comparison con el nivel abajo de Juan Manuel Santos?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: te mencioné que la mayoría de refugiados colombianos en Ecuador se dieron en 2009-2010, gobierno de Uribe luego del bombardeo de Agostura, donde el ejército colombiano bombardeo en Ecuador.

En realidad no hay mayor diferencia entre el número de personas que solicita refugio en Ecuador en comparación de la época del gobierno de Uribe o Santos. La violencia sigue siendo común, los grupos armados estatales o no estatales siguen desplazando gente en Colombia, el número de desplazados Colombianos es el mayor del mundo con cerca de 2,4 millones de personas y las cifras no han descendido

Luis Xavier Solis on the 55,140 refugees in Ecuador less famous than Julian Assange


colombia_armyToday on Chekhov’s Kalashnikov we are going to talk with Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca who works for the Comittee of Human Rights of Orellana in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This organization which works closely with UNHCR is in charge of protecting and defending some of the worlds most vulnerable and forgotten people – refugees that have fled Colombians civil war in search for asylum and a better life in Ecuador.

Chekhov: Can you explain your work, the organization where you work, and what you specialize in?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: I work in two areas through a project with UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) 1.- Consulting and advocacy for people in need of international protection, in this case especially for Colombian refugees who are the majority of people who need international protection by the Colombian internal conflict. 2. – Counselling and Advocacy in cases where human rights have been violated, in recent cases we have have had were against human rights violations by the police.

[pullquote align=”right”]FOR REFUGEES:
if you come to Ecuador the first think you must do approach a human rights organizationor ACNUR in Ecuador, inform yourself about the request for asylum before you reach 15 days in the country otherwise the Ecuadorian government will not consider your request.

Refugees should contact the following organizations on the northern Ecuadorian border:
– Servivio Jesuita para refugiados
– Fundación Tarabita
– Asylum Access Ecuador
– Federación de mujeres de Sucumbios
– Oxfam
– Comité de Derechos Humanos de Orellana,
– Defensoría del Pueblo de Sucumbios y Orellana
– Cualquier otra sede, estas organizaciones trabajamos en refugio y podemos brindar asesoría.

Chekhov: What are the statistics, that is the number of Colombian refugees who are living in Ecuador and especially in the provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana?

Chekhov: What are the statistics, that is the number of Colombian refugees that are living in Ecuador especially in the provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: well in Ecuador there are around 56,000 refugees of which 90% are of Colombian nationality! The other nationalities are Palestinians, Haitians, Spanish, Cubans, etc.

Chekhov: and how does the Ecuadorian government treat the Colombian refugees in comparison with that of other nations?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: well you´ve got to remember the major part of Colombian refugees were recognised and registered in Ecuador in 2009-2010 after the Bombing of Angostura. Before 2012 Ecuadorian legislation was less rigorous until the issuance of Decree 1182 of May 30, 2012 which restricted access to asylum.

We´ve heard from different areas in the government its position that refugees are an expense to the country principally Colombians which are the majority however this does not take into account the contribution they have made to the Ecuadorian economy with their labour and microenterprises. The government with the issuance of this decree severely restricted access to the right to shelter, so much that of the 100% of requests for shelter only 4% are accepted when before the decree it was about 60%.

Chekhov: and they are rejected legitimate refugees now?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: the majority yes, people who have elements of refugees, as well with such small percentages almost all are left out.

Chekhov: and what happens when they reject one´s asylum, they have to return to Colombia or do they stay in Ecuador?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: that´s the problem, in lots of cases when there are refugee elements, the need for international protection, they cannot return.

[quote style=”1″]Suppose you are a refugee and your country does not protect you or does not want to protect you, therefore if he comes to seek refuge in another country there is a need for protection, either a regular or irregular armed group, that pursues them, threatens them, makes them fear for their lives or for their political expressions, social, racial, etc.

In lots of cases we have seen that the refugees stay in Ecuador without official documents which puts them in a vulnerable situation, they can be exploited laborally or sexually.[/quote]This is because the current government decree (1182) left off numbers to the right to be able to recognise victims of violence that the law had previously incorporated under the declaration of Cartegena, but it is no longer beholden in Ecuadorian law. That was part of the law and therefore should be applied.

Life For refugees in Ecuador less famous than Julian Assange


assange asilo
Julian Assange in Ecuador´s London Embassy

Chekhov: everybody has heard of the Ecuador´s most famous refugee, the Australian Julian Assange, can you tell us about some of the refugees that have fled violence in Colombia but have been forgotten by the Ecuadorian state and the rest of the world?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: …what you say is precisely the contradiction that has befallen the Ecuadorian state, already on a global level and in a principled way it gave asylum to Assange and a pass to Edward Snowden, however the life of Colombian refugees is not that easy.

The fact of fleeing from a conflict of over 50 years is very complicated, to get to a different albeit close country, finding a place to live, where to work, where to raise children… These issues are really sobering to think about.

[pullquote align=”right”]
“Up to June 2013 the Ecuadorian government has recognized 55,141 refugees in the country. Since 2000, when there were 390 refugees, 168 525 people have applied for refugee status in Ecuador. About 23% of them are children and adolescents.”
ACNUR in Ecuador

Testimonials from Colombian Refugees

A lot of the refugees in Ecuador that have fled the Colombian conflict were only able to bring identification documents so there access to rights is very precarious. Generally the same authorities that are making systems where [refugees] are unable to register because of the number of refugee visas, is the one for social security and education.

Afterwards they also become vulnerable because when they start to perform jobs they are poorly paid, being characterized by cheap hard labour, in other cases they are not even paid for their labour…

This is the case for those who do find work, for the rest they have to look at finding more informal ways to earn a living, ways where they are exploited for their situation of always being on the move, which is to say the solutions aren’t comprehensive. There is still much to do in terms of providing refuge, while we agree that it is not just an Ecuadorian problem but an international one, but I think the government should deal with more attention to this sector.

Ejercito Ecuatoriano
Ejercito Ecuatoriano

[quote style=”1″]The problems are greatest in the zones by the border where the both the Ecuadorian and Colombian civilian populations live in a situation of uncertainty.

They are already violations of rights by the Ecuadorian military, the Colombian military, and armed groups, this is to say they are a population living in the line of fire.[/quote]

Women and Children Refugees from Colombia


refugiadas colombianas
The Federation of Women in Sucumbíos is a program that gives comprehensive care to women refugees from Colombia, where programa de atención integral a mujeres refugiadas de Colombia, which “promotes the end of impunity for cases of domestic violence against women.”

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: Also you have to remember that 70% of Colombian refugees are women and children.

Chekhov: and what happened to the fathers and husbands?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: there are lots of motives, they were assasinated, they have been disappeared, or the women are on there own, or the husbands come afterwards…

For the part of ACNUR and other social organizations like us at the Committee of Human Rights of Orellana, we have tried to help, provide counselling so there rights are not violated, however the number that we meet is still small compared to the refugee population in total.

Chekhov: can you tell us about some of these recent cases where the human rights of refugees have been violated by police?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: There exists many occassions where because of the movement of people that need asylum do not have the correct documentation to travel throughout the country, whether thats because they havent sought asylum with the Ecuadorian state or because the authorities do not know how to identify a refugee and the rights they have.

There exists and continues to exist various detentions by police of people who need asylum, however this is to ignore the constitutional rights of refugees who are in parts 9, 40, 41 and others of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of movement, the right to asylum and refuge, universal citizenship.

The police have no power in their grading of if a person is a refugee or not so all you can do is apply the documentation and if the person does not have it says they are a refugee or is in need of international protection what needs to happen is to refer the case to the Department of Redwhat to do is to refer the case to the Directorate of Refugees with their facility to analyse and consider the case.

What we know is that there are still abuses principally when they detain refugees working in prostitution, starting first with that yes they are recognised as refugees and can work in whatever lawful activity such as prostitution, secondly you cannot be detained and have their documents withdrawn because the police do not have the power to do that.

The best way to end these abuses is to denounce them so that they do not repeat and to sanction those responsible for denying these human rights.

There also exists illegal detentions of refugees without respect due process, only because they are presumed to have commited a crime because of the stigma that much of the Ecuadorian authorities have of refugees from Colombia.

The World Refugee Crisis


Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: The topic of the global refugee crisis as you know is a phenomenon that isn´t going to finish any time soon, rather the situation has worsened, principally in the Middle East with Syria, North Africa, and how things are going there will be added to by more climate refugees and by the adverse conditions in which the world is developing….

For this I believe the solution legal, social, but in the background is POLICY.

Chekhov: Right now in Australia there is an electoral campaign where the two main political parties are trying to demonstrate to a xenophobic and sometimes racist electorate who can create the toughest policies against refugees to send a message and stop them entering the country, what do you say to them?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: …what is happening on a global level is to believe that economic crises and lack of employment is due to refugees, that economic migrants are those who take away jobs, however this is only an appearance to hide the truth, which is that the crises, lack of employment is due to the accumulation of capital in a few hands, in the minority, less than 1% of the population.. these political speeches stick in times of global economic crises and sometimes ordinary people usually believe them.

It is therefore important to be more critical about where these speeches are coming from, speeches that are supported by the mainstream media that are repeated until they permeate in the minds of the population.

[quote style=”1″]You have to put yourself in teh shoes of the migrants and refugees and understand there reality, you cannot restrict the right for refuge, its a human right, and governments around the world need to respect that right[/quote]

Refugees under Juan Manuel Santos and Alvaro Uribe


santos y uribe Chekhov: I want to ask you of the armed groups: paramilitary, military, FARC Guerillas, who are causing the most violations against human rights?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: generally I believe the Colombian military and the paramilitary. But it seems like the guerrilla in Colombia have forgotten there founding principles and there exists many rural people that are persecuted and killed.

What happens is that it is a field of war, a civilian has to pay the armed groups without reason in many cases, if the armed groups see a frightened farmer, one that was forced to give water to the paramilitaries or the military, they are branded as an informant o vice versa.

Chekhov: what is the level of refugees under the former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe in comparison with the current President Juan Manuel Santos?

Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca: Ive already mentioned that the majority of Colombian refugees were granted asylum between 2009-2010, during the government of Uribe after the bombing of Angostura, where the Colombian military bombed Ecuador.

But in reality there is not a big difference in the amount of people that are request asylum in Ecuador between the government of Uribe or Santos. The violence still continues to be common, armed groups of the state or non-state continue to displace people in Colombia, the number of displaced Colombians is the biggest in the world with almost 2.4 million people and the numbers have not fallen.

The Guerrilla Movement Waging War Against Deforestation

map for cloud forest conservation
Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena biodiversity hotspot

In the dense cloud forests that cover the western ridge of the Ecuadorian Andes an active guerrilla movement called the Pachamama Army roams.

Unlike other guerrilla armies further north inside this biodiversity hotspot biologists call the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena, this movement believes in non-violent struggle over violent subversion.

Their revolution is one of consciousness via connection with nature and they are armed to the teeth with seeds, saplings, and shovels instead of guns and shells.

“The Pachamama Army are the protectors of nature,” says the movement´s leader Geovani Yanchaliquin Basantez, an indigenous Andino Yachac (Andean Shaman) pictured below, “We hold life in its natural state with utmost respect and guard over the plant and animal species in danger of extinction.”

Geovani of the Pachamama ArmyIts a daunting task: Ecuador´s coastal cloud forests and humid montane forests are considered one of the most biodiverse hotspots on the planet, containing approximately 15-17-% of the world’s plant species and nearly 20% of its bird diversity.

Equally biodiverse are the Panamanian and Colombian sectors of the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena where armed conflict between paramilitary groups and the Colombian military against FARC and ELN guerrilla forces have prevented deforestation and protected the natural biodiversity.

The blowback with peace in Ecuador however has been devastating.

The violent visual representation below shows how Ecuador´s coastal forests have lost land at a rate faster than Palestine between 1938 and 1988 due to slash-and-burn farming, illegal logging, monocultures, and population growth.

map of cloud forest deforestation
UNDER SIEGE: The coastal forests of Ecuador

Today approximately 2% of Ecuador´s coastal forests are left in sparse disconnected patches scattering the country´s coast. These are the most threatened tropical forests on planet earth.

Forward Operating Base “el Kade”

cloud forest waterfall
el Kade is the Pachamama Army´s most remote outpost and it´s under siege. A plague of African palm oil, cacao monocultures and banana plantations swallow the surrounding countryside like a cancerous green shaded desertification.

Rivers flowing from the snow-capped volcanoes east that were once the supply lines of life for the mountainside are now clogged with cow shit and silt. The green corridors that connected this small patch of tropical cloud forest and provided safe passage for nomadic animals have been cemented over by the unceasing march of civilization.

[quote]The coastal forest of Ecuador are the country´s lungs and source of water. The coast is sitting on the cliff of extinction and if we do not reforest now, we will be in danger of losing everything that inhabits this zone. – Geovani Yanchaliquin [/quote]

cloud forest leaf
Giant leaves that make you feel like you´re in Jurassic Park.

el Kade is one of three terrains entrusted to the Pachamama Army for protection. On the terrain there are 38 hectares of primary forest and 5 hectares of secondary, the two wooden cabins are off the grid and built with recycled wood, and all food consumed is grown organically on site.

But the remoteness of el Kade´s virgin forest is both a blessing and a curse: in times past its isolation saved it while illegal loggings lust for cheap timber chopped down all the low hanging fruit.

Now that Ecuador´s environmental laws have been tightened and are more strictly policed that same isolation entices the timber barons here because the law is harder to enforce.

[pullquote align=”right”]Check out the powerful Global Forest Disturbance Alert System that uses NASA satellite technology to track down deforestation.

“I’m hoping the tool can help journalists and activists pinpoint areas where deforestation is occurring,” says Rhett Butler, founder and editor-in-chief of Mongabay.[/pullquote]”To stop deforestation it is necessary to identify and denounce the threat when illegal logging is discovered.” says Geovanni who uses before and after photos taken by members of his small army on routine reconnaissance missions to measure deforestation. With enough proof they alert Ecuador´s Ministry of Environment to intervene as a regulator.

After preventing deforestation and planting saplings over baron pastures the Pachamama Army´s other priorities include educating local farmers on the benefits of organic farming over pesticide coated monocultures and creating a seed bank, “a seed bank is urgent because most ancestral plants are disappearing fast due to the deforestation and invasion of hybrid plants and grasses.”

“Ecotourism as a word means to arrive at a harmonious state between man and nature, and that for us is a way of life outside of marketing and capitalism.” says Geovanni who has also developed Reforestation Treks in conjunction with the Ecuador Tree People, “All of the economic income from ecotourism will be reinvested in works that favour nature.”

4WD-stuck-in-mudIt´s recommended that volunteers that want to work on these conservation projects to arrange to arrive at el Kade by mountain bike or horseback because by car it´s downright dangerous to get there.

Our 4WD Landrover almost slipped off the cliff lining the treacherous mudracked road and rope was tied around the tyres in a desperate attempt to give the car more traction. But it was worth the risk for views like this:
clouds over coastal andes ecuador

The Modern Day Shaman

For Geovanni the fight to save Ecuador´s coastal forests is also a fight to preserve his rich Kichwa heritage from being homogenised into the masses like a giant human monoculture.

The fast disappearing role of the Yachac or Shaman in the communal lives of the Kichwa´s and Andino´s that inhabit the Ecuadorian Sierra is especially troubling.

deforestation ecuador
Deforestation on the mountainside above “el Kade”

“The Shaman in the modern world plays a very important part in helping people return to their roots, to eat healthy and take natural medicine that doesn´t affect other parts of the body like chemical medicines.”

Geovanni learnt the secrets of Shamanic medicine from his father Victor Yanchaliquin, an indigenous medicine doctor and author of several books pertaining to medicinal plants.

This however is becoming increasingly rare in modern Ecuador where Spanish speaking Kichwa children cannot communicate in the Kichwa language to their grandparents.

In the 21st century the sacred ancestral knowledge that was once passed from generation to generation on the use and cultivation of medicinal plants is being lost as fast as the plants themselves.
“The wisdom of our ancestors tells us that we are already in difficult times,” says Geovanni, “but to conserve nature and our ancestral roots is our mission.”

When the mist grips el Kade it´s easy to get disoriented – when you´ve snorted water that´s been boiled with tobacco leaves and consumed half a litre of mescaline San Pedro cactus that disorientation expands time, place, and self.

On a full moon the clouds glow blue while the surrounding nature throbs with a kaleidoscope of calls from birds, mammals, amphibians, lizards, and insects. Hearing this call of life in its most pristine state is when you realise the importance of this beautiful living breathing organism all around us that sustains us and that are we are willing to sacrifice to make a quick buck.

[quote]”Pachamama in the Andean world is our mother, the spirit of nature, we are her children, and we have to fight to save her.” – Geovani Yanchaliquin[/quote][mc4wp_form]

The Modern Black Market for Antiques

By the look of the place you’d never guess half a million dollars of pre-Colombian art was buried beneath the mess. Stored on the bottom floor of a nondescript apartment in the Ecuadorian Andes, under an uncurled moldy mattress and boxes of broken electronics, are artifacts spanning the rise and fall of civilizations.

“These pieces have a power not for normal people to see,” an Ecuadorian archaeologist nicknamed Indiana told me.  He unwraps the newspaper covering a vase sized cup, a wooden chalice called a Queeo, used by the Incas in human sacrificial ceremonies.

“It was used to drink the blood of a virgin but only once.” Indiana says running his finger over the hieroglyphs on the four hundred year old cup’s circumference.  The engraved images show the virgin being bound and held by one priest as the second raises his sword, the virgin’s head is severed then held by the hair to drain the blood from her brain into the chalice. Value on the international black market: $10,000 – $15,000 USD

To my inexperienced eye, I note the apartment’s dusty conditions is far from ideal for ancient artifacts that should be under glass display, but Indiana assures me the pieces are spiritually “protected”.  He points to a paper maché mold mounted on the wall, the blue elephantine head of Ganesh, and places another cigarette as tribute in the gaping pottery mouth of Ekeko, the Peruvian God of good luck. Indiana tells me if that’s not enough to protect the place from intruders, or the visibly encroaching mold, the bones of his dead uncle are also hidden in the apartment.

“I donated $30,000 worth of pieces to a government museum but they disappeared,” he says and then tries to persuade me to take promotional photos of several hundred Valdivias, ceramics found on Ecuador’s coast that come from one of the first peoples to settle in the Americas between 3500 BC and 1800 BC.

“People overseas appreciate and take care of this art more than people here.” he says.   I agree with him.

The Plaza de los Ponchos in the Ecuadorian town of Otovalo is an indigenous market with everything from alpaca socks to authentic or fake antiques for collectors like Indiana that have the eye to spot the difference. Here Indiana meets a Swiss expat that trades in rocks: from shards of quartz, fools gold, and fossilized wood from Madagascar, to heavy Mexican masks made of Bromite.

Indiana tells him about his collection.  The Swiss man makes a passing comment, nonchalant and easy to miss, about a contact back home with a penchant for the phallic ceramics that bestowed fertility on ancient Valdivia.  A casual meetup come private showing is organized the next day.

If the Swiss agrees to do business what happens next is the ancient Valdivias will be taken by courier to the coastal town of La Pila. Like the town’s more famous neighbor Monticristi, which specializes in Ecuadorian Panama Hats, La Pila is a place where ceramics fresh from the kiln can be manufactured en masse for cheap. Here the priceless Valdivias will be packed with spin-off trinkets to camouflage the art en route to Zurich.

The ceramics of varying vintages will then be taken to the port city of Manta where one of Indianas’ guys will sign and send them overseas for a small three figure cut. Because its more dangerous to get artifacts out of Ecuador than into Switzerland, Indiana himself can pick them up in the Alps.

Once Indiana has the goods in Zurich he will make contact with the mark. “A personal introduction is worth much more than passing on a contact,” he says looking at his watch, “and of course an all expenses return trip from Quito to Zurich is included if he comes.”

But the Swiss doesn’t show and the Valdivias are left to collect dust with the bones of the archeologist’s crusty uncle a little while longer.