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Media Manipulation 101: The Injured Youth and the Rise of Citizen Journalism in Colombia

injured-youth2 On the 29th of August hours after the protests in the Plaza de Bolivar in Bogota a video of a seriously injured youth known only as the “Joven Herido” started making waves around social networks.

The protests had turned violent and depending on which side of the barricade you stood the blame laid at the feet of either the disproportional force of the ESMED Riot Police or a “cartel of vandals” that had infiltrated the protests and caused the militarization of Bogota.

From that protest the story of the Injured Youth became one of the most viewed, commented, and shared videos to come out of the two week nation wide strikes that had engulfed the country. A closer look at the coverage of the Joven Herido is essential to understand the media war underway between the mainstream broadcast media and Colombia’s citizen journalists.

How to Direct the Narrative in News

As the video of the Injured Youth went viral concerned citizens across Colombia began asking who he was, what happened to him, and if he was okay.

El Espectador, the oldest newspaper in Colombia as well as one of its biggest and most influential, was the only big mainstream communication medium to publish the video. Here is a comparative analysis between the coverage between El Espectador and a small citizen media outlet called Reporteros24 which bills itself as “the social network of citizen journalism from latinos for latinos”

El Espectador published the video on the 29th at 6:55 pm and later tweeted it at 9:15 and 11:53. Reporteros24 on the other hand published the video on the 30th at 6:06pm and tweeted it at 7:13.

The difference between the language they used:

“Youth Injured During Bogota Protests”

“In Video: Youth Injured During Bogota Protests”

“Shocking images of a seriously injured youth during the Agrarian Protests in Bogotá”

If you add 27 + 19 + 23 for the amount of retweets each got above and divide by 3 you get number 23. This makes Reporteros24 tweet the mean. Now note that the twitter account of El Espectador has 1,220,417 followers while Reporteros24 has 1,803 and do the maths – In statistics tweets like El Espectadors are called Outliers.

[pullquote]out·li·er [out-lahy-er] noun:
an observation that is well outside of the expected range of values in a study or experiment, and which is often discarded from the data set.”
This is the power of using vague and ambigious language on twitter over its descriptive and contextual opposite – its designed to be discarded.

Now lets compare the landing pages for the Youtube video on both El Espectador and Reporteros24:
[quote]”El Espectador was unable to confirm this information independently, but decided to publish it for its news value. The content below may find upsetting.” El Espectador[/quote]

[quote]This video circulating on social networks, shows the severity of injuries sustained while this young man participated in marches in support of agricultural strike in Bogota. Apparently tear gas exploded near the boy’s face. The images can hurt your sensitivity. Reporteros24 can not independently confirm the veracity, date or place of this material. Reporteros24[/quote]

Here we can give El Espectador the benefit of the doubt in that they published the video the night of the protests (a day before Reporteros24) and legitimately had no information about the boy. However for the most viewed, shared, and commented video that the newspaper published one might think its “news value” meant it deserved a follow up to find out what happened to the boy.

Colombia’s oldest newspaper however was too busy publishing article after article about the colourfully dubbed a “cartel of vandals” guilty of throwing rocks and wrecking public property and even included the video apology of a 15 year old boy whose “reprehensible action” was to graffiti “long live the strike” on a wall which was news worthy enough to get its own article.

Network Anomalies on El Espectador

Four days later and the view-count of the Injured Youth video was rapidly climbing everywhere except newspaper El Espectador where various network anomalies saw the piece fluctuate between 27,000 and 11,000 shares. A few days later still the view count started to fluctuate between 11,000 and 4,000 shares and now sits steady on 12,000.

Is this a glitch? Or is it part of a larger plan to censor and obfuscate all news related to violations of human rights perpetuated by the country’s feared ESMAD riot police? Lets look a little deeper.


Sex and Gore are the media industry’s two holy cash cows and “The nymphomaniac that proposes to have sex with 100,000 men” was El Espectadors best bet in making the masses forget the previous weeks protests and the Injured Youth. The piece became number 1 in the newspapers TOP 10 for the week of 2nd to 8th of September.

“Up this this moment Ania Lisewska has 284 men in her ´collection´”

Sex sells and the picture of the 21 year old Polish sex junky with her legs seductively bared on her bed no doubt helped the article skyrocket to number 1 for the week. Now lets look at the Injured Youth in the previous week:

Instead of showing the Injured Youths mutilated face haemorrhaging blood we get an image of a different youth, without a cut on him, seemingly antagonizing the ESMAD riot police that cower against the wall. El Espectador have an original photo of the youth but they decided to go against the cardinal rule in news media “if it bleeds it leads” which makes us wonder why don’t they want this story to lead?

Media Manipulation is everywhere and if citizen journalists do not hold news organizations accountable their flagrant abuse of the truth it will only become more outrageous.

To prove this point the day after the National Agrarian Strike ended, with hundreds of outstanding human rights violations by the ESMAD and half the countryside on the brink of bankruptcy, the front page of El Espectador has 12 articles about sport and one article hidden at the bottom from the “chief of state” Juan Manuel Santos acknowledging there’s a problem.

Casualty of a Media War: Photographer Federico Lennis

With 10,000 shares more than the consecutive weeks article (or 24,443 shares less depending on which view-count you believe) it is hard to fathom why the journalists at El Espectador haven’t looked further into the case of the Injured Youth.

The following message is part of news that has been spreading since the 30th of August, about the young Federico Lennis, who on the 29th of August was injured in the face by the ESMAD (original Post)

While the mainstream media was silent citizen journalists and Facebook groups were busy scouring the web for more information about the boy and posting pleas via leveraging the power of social networks.

In the image to the left the cousin of the injured youth, named Federico Lennis, states: [quote]Hello everybody, i am the cousin of Federico and I am infinitely grateful to you all for the great support you have given us over this Facebook page. I inform you that fortunately he is good in health and talking in general….

We are working on gathering information as a family, friends, and relatives, contacts of any kind to help improve his quality of life, its to say…. we want a smile on him like before…for that we need a dentist or various im not sure, those who are interested in the case he has already lost various teeth and we need someone urgently…[/quote]

On the citizen journalist site aptly named Mentiras Medios or “Lying Media” we get an even better idea who Federico Lennis is in their two articles that reconstruct the steps leading up to his injury.

They also found a quote on a Youtube video on Noticias Capital that devotes most of the time investigating the Cartel of Vandals but interviews a man at the end who tells us what happened to Federico Lennis: [quote]Yesterday we were first hand witnesses, of the police brutality that the ESMAD introduced and the force available from the National Police in Bogota, on the road 19 with avenue 7a a youth of approximately 18 years was hit by a tear gas grenade. This completely destroyed his lips, the police did nothing to help him.[/quote]

We also see that certain elements are attempting to defame Federico Lennis by claiming he was a “masked vandal” or Capucho. Fortunately we can thank the coming of age of Colombia’s citizen journalists for not settling for censorship and revealing the truth about this 18 year old photographer who may never smile again. But hell always be remembered as the martyr who fought for a cause he believed in.

"Here we have the youth that the ESMAD destroyed the Face...Federico Lennis. Here is the proof that he was not a "masked vandal" he was a photographer. That those responsible appear, the true vandals, the ESMAD that shot him."
“Here we have the youth that the ESMAD destroyed the Face…Federico Lennis.
Here is the proof that he was not a “masked vandal” he was a photographer.
That those responsible appear, the true vandals, the ESMAD that shot him.


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: http://www.vilma-vargas.com/

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: http://www.vilma-vargas.com/

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 Shitty State of Human Sanitation (Part 2: The Solution)

water-sanitationIn Part 2 of this interview about human waste disposal and water sanitation Chris tells us the solution to all of the problems mentioned in Part 1: The Problem.

How did the new design for a sustainable human waste disposal system come into being?

In the 1950s, before the regrettable Vietnam War, a team of Vietnamese doctors analyzed why so many people were sick and how to control this. They found a great number of people were collecting “night soil” in buckets that were emptied in the morning directly in agricultural fields, where people worked largely barefoot.

The doctors realized that 90% of the fertilizer is in the urine that transmits no disease when dispersed in the soil, while essentially all the health risk is packaged with only 10% of the fertilizer in the feces. The answer was to keep the urine separate and set it free on the soil immediately, while jailing up the shit, until it is not shit any more.

Mr Shit and Ms Piss in English
In their case, they applied a detention time of three months, plus they added wood ash. This team that invented Urine-diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs) was apparently anonymous, although it would be good for credit to go where credit is due, and to know more about the process.

UDDTs were later picked up by the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, as a solution for the abundant cabins out in the Swedish woods, where running water is not feasible in the winter due to freezing, but they would never accept that their many beautiful lakes get contaminated.

They also actively promote these as a means to improve the health and sanitation of billions of people in the world.

I also suspect that certain ancient cultures had UDDTs, in particular the densely populated Amazonian peoples that made Terra Preta do Indio (Indian’s Black Soil, in Portuguese), until they were apparently decimated by Old World diseases soon after the arrival of Europeans.

No one knows yet exactly how they made these deep, dark, rich, long-lasting, productive soils, in the midst of extremely poor, highly weathered, clayey Amazonian lands, but I highly doubt that they were wasting the nutrients in their feces while they were doing so.

Documentary: The Secret of El Dorado

improved sanitation systemCan you explain how the design for this human waste disposal system works?

It is very simple and seeks to follow the natural order of things. The urine and feces that the body excretes separately are kept separate, to be dealt with separately, since they are totally different things.

The urine is caught in a funnel toward the front, since both men and women pee forward, and it goes back to the soil and the plants, where it transmits no diseases. (A bit of the urine from women may drip farther back, but this small amount is not a problem.)

Urine is normally sterile and there are only a handful of weird diseases that it ever transmits, plus for that to happen it has to go into rivers or contact the next person directly. The various microbes of urinary tract infections and vaginal infections either get destroyed rapidly in the soil or are natural inhabitants of the soil anyway. Many of these come from the gut, but here they are in much smaller numbers and are highly diluted, as compared to in the feces.

In addition, sexually transmitted diseases cannot live outside of the body any significant amount of time. Sit Right

Feces drop farther back, directly into alternately used chambers or exchangeable receptacles and are covered immediately with dry cover material, such as soil, wood ash, sawdust, rice hulls, or a mix of these. They are then stored, protected from the rain, for at least six months in tropical countries or a year in temperate countries, so that all the disease organisms die and it all just becomes soil.

In fact, all the worst diseases, like cholera, diarrhea and typhoid, are wiped out in a much shorter time and the guideline of six months or a year is so that intestinal worm eggs, which are the most resistant pathogens but are much less life-threatening, are also eliminated. Most victims of these worms do not even know that they have them.

Shit is a temporary condition. After its jail sentence, it’s no longer shit: we open the chambers or receptacles and find dark, humus-rich soil, with no smell or health risk.

UDD-dry-toiletThis stands to reason, since our pathogens are adapted to living in water without oxygen inside our guts, not in a pile of dry material, especially if there is soil in the pile, with all of its bacteria, fungus, protozoans and invertebrates.

These soil organisms are entirely at home in such a pile, where they eat and rip up anything that is over-abundant or out of place.

After this jail sentence, we can also apply secondary treatments involving heat, sun, earthworms or composting together with food scraps (especially thermophilic composting), for extra peace of mind or to speed things up.

We can build UDDTs for sitting or for squatting. In addition to all the health benefits mentioned above for squatting, this also allows for better separation of the urine and easier, less expensive construction.

Modern Western People tend to suffer from a psychological disease called fecophobia, which is an irrational fear of feces. Shit is a normal part of life and there is no disease in it that the user did not have from before, so, if the person is healthy, there is no health risk in his or her shit, only an unpleasant smell to be controlled and nutrients to be taken advantage of. If the user is sick, their pathogens get destroyed in the UDDT, as long as it is being managed properly.

dry-toilet-sanitationThere can be a health risk if, in a multi-family system, some of the users are sick and they are not using their UDDTs properly, such that some of their feces get mixed into the urine, but this can be controlled by storing the urine for a number of months (depending on the climate) or distributing it below the surface of the soil, where no one will have contact with it. The greatest health risk occurs when we do not think rationally about this and do the irrational act of throwing it in the river, where others can have contact immediately.

UDDTs are literally a matter of loving and trusting Mother Earth, in which we respectfully give back that which we no longer need, to let her deal with it. If we turn back the clock on shit, we find delicious food on the table. If we turn back the clock again (twice in the case of meat), we find beautiful plants growing in the sunlight. One more click and we see rich soil, so what is to keep it from becoming soil again, if we turn the dial forward again?

(Some commercial models do not use cover material, but rather have electric fans to make sure the air is always going away from the user. One of these is the Ecodomeo, which has a pedal-operated conveyor belt that carries the shit away)

The design has changed very little since the 1950’s. Have you made any modifications to make it better suit the Ecuadorian Andes and Amazon?

My line of work has been aimed at making UDDTs as easy and inexpensive to build as possible, while keeping user acceptance high.

In other words, my goal is for the building of a good dry toilet to be more a matter of a paradigm shift than a big capital investment. For this reason, I have found ways to build with readily available materials, especially since factory-made units are mostly not available in Ecuador.

One of the biggest changes I made from the start was to distribute the urine immediately via perforated hoses in the soil, instead of storing the urine in jugs, to later dilute and apply it as fertilizer among crop plants.

Organic farmers looking for every bit of natural fertilizer for their plants might be willing to do the latter, but the average user will not want to deal with smelly, fermenting urine every few days. In most of my designs, these hoses are buried 10 cm below the surface of the soil, among productive plants, like fruit trees, that can put the nutrients to good use.

In the interest of making UDDTs accessible to everyone, I published a paper in the Austrian online magazine, Sustainable Sanitation Practice, on Simple UDDTs that may be built with recycled and other readily available materials, such as disposable plastic bottles and wood: Some of the models shown here cost close to nothing.

Another surprising innovation is the storage of feces in the ubiquitous, woven, polypropylene plastic sacks used to sell rice, flour and many other products. These make excellent receptacles for this use, since humidity can evaporate out and oxygen can filter in, but flies, smells and pathogens cannot get in or out.

At first glance, people would imagine liquids oozing out, but they never do, thanks to the dry and absorbent cover material. Also, these sacks last for years and years, if they are not exposed to the sun’s UV rays. One of the biggest advantages of using interchangeable containers, like sacks, is that, at the first sign of  any problems with smell or flies, you can simply change the container and the problem is resolved immediately. Another is that the feces get covered better in a small container, as compared to a big chamber.

One of the most practical ways to use these sacks is to place them as liners of plastic bins, so the sacks are held open nicely and it is easy to change them. It is also good to make holes in the bottom of the bin, and have it propped up off the ground, to allow humidity to evaporate out and for oxygen to get in, since all the worst smells associated with latrines and sewer lines are generated by bacteria that live in the absence of oxygen.

Even more surprising for many, I have found that the finished compost from this system is the best material to cover new shit. Many of the right soil microbes are still there, likely in an inactive state (like fungal spores and bacterial endospores), ready to jump back into action when there is more shit (with its moisture) to have a party in.

In this way, natural selection and the rapid evolution of microbes are working in our favor, helping them get more efficient at breaking down exactly our shit, in exactly the conditions we keep them in. In contrast, the system of water-based toilets and trying to kill the germs in a short time with chemicals is a recipe for evolution to produce microbes that are more and more resistant to the chemicals used and that are potentially more and more virulent in disease

This recycling of cover material makes the operation of UDDTs much more practical and inexpensive, especially in cities and isolated locations, since new cover material does not need to be acquired and transported constantly, nor does much of the finished compost need to trucked away. That which does have to go would not have to go very far, if neighbors, nearby neighborhoods or nearby cities sign up for UDDTs or if urban agriculture is being done.
Another good reason to use the finished compost as cover material is that it filters odors much more efficiently than most other materials, removing and breaking down up to 99% of volatile organic compounds.

It has also been shown to eliminate 75% of the reduced sulfur compound emissions that most contribute to the characteristic aroma of shit in a laboratory study of conditions similar to those of commercial composting operations (Büyüksönmez et al. 2012, ), and up to 97% of the stench from landfills (Hurst et al. 2005)

There have been a couple of isolated cases of dogs or rats being attracted by the odor and messing with the sack that is receiving the feces, but only when sawdust was being used a cover material, not when finished compost was being used (and this is another reason for the plastic bin mentioned above).

Furthermore, there is research showing that children who grow up in overly clean and disinfected homes, without contact with soil, have a much higher incidence of asthma and allergies, since their immune systems do not have anything to train on

Videos about the Hygiene Hypothesis of Disease

family with better sanitation
So, having soil-like decomposed feces in the bathroom as cover material may well be a health benefit, instead of a health risk like one might suspect, as long as we are certain that the actual pathogens have died during its storage or treatment.

Humans evolved in complete ecosystems, including all the normal microbes, not in sterilized boxes, so it would make sense that bringing more parts of the ecosystem into the city would make it healthier for people.

This is all the more reason to build green, living roofs and vertical gardens on urban apartment buildings (and I have figured out how to do this with disposable Coke bottles).

At the moment, you are working with Achuar communities to implement this system. Has it been difficult to explain the environmental and health benefits of this system? What are some of the problems and breakthroughs you have had?

Changing anyone’s toilet habits is an imminently cultural endeavor and it is usually an uphill battle. People need to understand the concept, but, almost more importantly, they need to see and smell that UDDTs work.

I have built UDDTs with a variety of ethnic groups here in Ecuador, including mestizos, Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Waorani, and a little bit among the Secoyas. Of these, the Achuar have, so far, shown the greatest degree of acceptance. They are culturally very hygienic and traditionally live in houses scattered widely out in the forest, so they always had lots of forest to hygienically deposit their feces into. They covered them with soil and leaves, where the ecosystem absorbs them, without anyone else having contact with them.

The Achuar have only had permanent contact with white people starting in about 1970, when schools and landing strips began to be built and they started settling fairly densely around these. It is also worth remembering that all the worst diseases were brought by the Europeans and it is estimated that 90% of the indigenous people in America died of those diseases when Europeans first came to America.

I think that potentially the Achuar have been quite concerned about fecal contamination for the last several decades, since they started living together in villages. Each family could be fairly certain of its own health and not so certain of that of the others, but all the children come together daily at the school and do their business behind the same trees. Also, it is a matter of privacy, since some of the villages are pretty large, with the houses fairly close to one another.

When I explain UDDTs to them, I emphasize the fact that, with open defecation in the woods, all these microbial enemies are set free, ready to attack us at any moment, whereas, with a dry toilet, these enemies are jailed up until they all die. They usually get the idea very quickly, but it is still a process to get them to build and use them, since old habits die slowly in any group of people.

In the last year and a half, we have built 31 UDDTs in 15 Achuar villages with the ACRA Foundation (of Italy) and the Chankuap Foundation (of Macas, Ecuador), with support from the European Union and the Municipality of Taisha

Over several years, the Pachamama Foundation and I have built 21 UDDTs in the Achuar villages of Pumpuentsa and Kurintsa, with a high degree of acceptance

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore are being built all the time and volunteers are welcome to help with this. As I write this, the Achuar village of Juyukamentsa is organizing to build UDDTs for each of 16 families and I would like to find a volunteer to help them, especially to contribute to good replication of the design, wood preservation, and education about their proper use and maintenance.

[spoiler title=”Videos of Achuar learning about UDDTs” ]


So if the Amazonian Achuar tribe can be convinced, could your average Australian, European, or North American can be convinced as well? Can you envision a time when the whole of humanity uses this system or are our heads too far stuck up our collective asses to change our behavior for the better?

At first glance, this may seem like a system that is only applicable for hippies, organic farmers, and Indians out in the woods, but, in reality, it is a prime alternative for everyone who wants to be civilized with their neighbors, future generations, and Nature. It is also fully feasible in cities, especially if the relatively small amount of shit is stored on-site during its jail sentence and is then recycled as cover material, while the urine and excess soil is used locally in urban agriculture. (Remember the vertical gardens I mentioned?)

We can also greatly shorten the jail sentence by storing the shit in solar ovens, potentially down to less than a day of good sun, since all we need to kill fecal pathogens is 7 minutes at 70°C, 30 minutes at 65°C, 2 hours at 60°C, 15 hours at 55°C, or 3 days at 50°C. (Feacham et al. 1983 and Strauch 1991, 1998, cited by Richard Higgins)

This is also more practical than cooking lunch in a solar oven, since untimely clouds do not make us put up with hunger.

The trick is to make these toilets as easy-to-use and presentable as possible. We currently ask users to add a cup of cover material after each use, but they do not always remember to do so and they often do not aim very well, spilling it into the urine funnel and around the toilet. For this reason, mechanisms are being worked out to add the cover material mechanically, such as in one project (that I was marginally involved in) that works via a pedal:

I even have a design in mind in which the user will not have to remember to step on a pedal, nor would it involve electronic sensors.

volunteers at dry toilet Another factor is that many users will not want to deal with the shit and the piss. This can be resolved by setting up service-provider companies that come to homes and offices to change the containers, hygienically process the contents, and (optimally) put the resulting fertilizers back to work in their own agriculture.

With these companies applying the final products in agriculture themselves, this would increase the reliability that everything gets its proper treatment, while converting it back to delicious fruits and vegetables, which will be infinitely easier to market than the pee and the poop.

This nutrient recycling is logical and necessary if we want to have sustainable agriculture and food security. An adult eats a lot of food, but is not growing, so all the nutrients eventually come back out and, if we give them back to our crop plants, they have exactly what they need to make our food again (together with solar energy).

In this way, we can forget about chemical fertilizers, if we also have a stable population size. Of course, we have to eventually forget about chemical fertilizers, because they come from non-renewable sources.

Commercial ammonia and urea, for nitrogenous fertilizer, are produced with natural gas from oil wells (as a hydrogen source to combine with nitrogen from the air), and natural gas is already starting to run out, with the peak of production estimated to occur in 2020

It is even estimated that half of the protein found in present-day human beings was made with nitrogen originally fixed by this artificial process, thus being one more case of fossil fuels subsidizing economic and population growth.

Phosphorus is also a finite, non-renewable, unreplaceable resource and phosphoric rock extraction is estimated to peak around 2035, with reserves remaining mainly in Morocco after that. Peak Phosphorous is the scariest thing you’ve never heard of.

UDDTs are an important tool for combating Global Climate Disruption more CO2 absorbed by fertilizing plants and trees,more carbon sequestered into the soil by integrating organic matter,less methane emitted by avoiding anaerobic fermentation of feces in water,less need for chemical fertilizers (another big source of GHGs),less use of petroleum for pumping and treating water,less need for cement for building big sewers (since cement production is a big source of CO2.

Improved water-holding capacity of soils, in the face of droughts, easy construction above the high water line (or on a floating structure), in the face of floods,less demand for precious clean water.

dry toilet sanitation system
Many rule out the mainstreaming of these dry toilets, as they cannot imagine the masses changing their toilet habits. This sort of toilet is not for everyone, but it is for everyone who wants to build a sustainable future for their children and those who do not learn to recycle nutrients will eventually go the way of the dinosaurs.

The Chinese have been recycling nutrients into the soil for thousands of years and this is one of the reasons they have had a continuous, advanced culture for such a long time. Recycling animal and human dung is the key to sustainable farming

Of course, they have not always done so in such an organized way, but there are now more than a million modern UDDTs functioning in China

I am convinced that more people can learn to do what cats do by instinct: cover their shit with soil. Let’s keep water clean by keeping shit dirty.

Thank you so much for sharing your time and knowledge! To follow Chris Canaday and his team’s work, check out these websites:

The Shitty State of Human Sanitation (Part 1: The Problem)

For Chekhovs Kalashnikovs very first interview on Change Makers we will be talking with environmental activist Chris Canaday from California about the broken and dangerous state of human and water sanitation systems and the solution to this problem that is damaging our environment and health.

chris-canaday-sanitation-toiletsI think that, before we talk about this revolutionary sanitation system, it is important to touch on why the current system is broken. Can you elaborate on how the contemporary western toilet came into being and the devastating effect that it has had on the environment and our health?

People in Europe used to live in total filth in their cities, throwing their excrement out the window. Porcelain flush toilets had been worked on for some time, but only in 1861, after her husband had died of fecally transmitted typhoid, Queen Victoria ordered flush toilets to be refined and installed in much of Britain.

It is also reported that she was so obese that she had trouble squatting and someone decided that it was not dignified for the queen to squat. They gave her a new porcelain throne and then, via mass psychology, all the Western World has wanted the same thing as the queen of England, even if it is not good for them or their environment.

The modern flush toilet has contributed greatly to the cleanliness of cities, but has not really solved the problem, just moved it farther away. Water always gets recycled and there are always more people living downstream. Developed countries spend millions and probably billions of dollars trying to clean up their wastewater, but never really succeed.

The modern flush toilet is largely based on the concept of “out of sight, out of mind”. It is also a prime example of selfishness: cleaning up the environment close to the user, while contaminating everyone’s general environment.

It is interesting to note that at the same time that Water Closets were being developed, Earth Closets were, too. There was even one reportedly used in Buckingham Palace for a while. Over time, Water Closets won out as the standard for Modern Western Society, likely due to their ease of use and maintenance, as long as piped water comes to the house and sewage goes away.

Another key way in which the current, water-based sanitation system is “broken” is that it is based on the illogical, unsustainable and linear concept that natural resources should be used once and then thrown away. Flush toilets not only throw away huge amounts of water, but also all the nutrients found in the excrement.

With a simple push of a lever, we effectively deplete our agricultural soils and contribute to the eutrophication of rivers, lakes and oceans and in them the formation of hypoxic dead zones.

If these nutrients were instead given back properly to the soil (and if the population were stable), we could forget about the non-renewable, unsustainable chemical fertilizers that are currently the basis of Modern Western Society’s food production. Those who learn to recycle these nutrients in an orderly way now will have every advantage in the future when these chemicals run out, and when there are possibly 9 billion people on Planet Earth, all wanting to eat.

Water is so essential and vital that we simply cannot live without it. Nonetheless, modern homes in developed countries dump between 25 and 40% of their water down the toilet, and the number engineers use in Ecuador is closer to 75%, given the high incidence of unmaintained toilets through which water flows constantly. We need to promote a culture of respect for water, as a source of life, which should never be treated as a garbage dump.

If these are not enough reasons to consider the current water-based toilet to be broken, obsolete and illogical, please consider the following unreliable, unhygienic and not-so-easy aspects of flush toilets:

  • They often need to be scrubbed after each use, if they are going to be presentable.
  • They frequently need to be flushed more than once for everything to go away.
  • They occasionally get plugged and need to be cleared with a plunger, with sewage splashing or overflowing out.
  • They make so much noise that everyone in the building can hear when they get flushed.
  • The great turbulence of flushing creates a plume of microscopic, fecally contaminated water droplets that then land on everything in the bathroom, including the toothbrushes.

In the interest of full disclosure, flush toilets can be somewhat ecologically and socially sustainable in places where water is abundant, human settlement is dispersed, and the soil is absorbent, such that septic tanks (for settling out the solids) and leach lines (drain fields; for allowing the contaminated water to absorb into the soil) can work properly, at more than 16 meters from wells or streams, and if the septic tank sludge is treated in reedbeds.

Constructed wetlands are also important tools for treating wastewater, but they require a fair amount of land. On top of this, who knows how far all the different modern synthetic chemicals can travel in the water and the soil? So, in summary, it is most prudent to not mix our excrement in water from the beginning, especially if we have large numbers of people grouped together in a city.

So the reason Colon Cancer is skyrocketing in the Western World today is because we aren’t completely clearing our bowels, thanks to a custom-made invention for a morbidly obese queen?

Yes, and not just colon cancer, but also constipation and hemorrhoids. The natural position human beings have used when defecating, over millions of years, since before we were people, has always been squatting. In this position, the outlet is straight and the body can eliminate its waste more easily, efficiently and completely. When sitting, the outlet is not straight, certain muscles contradict each other, one needs to push more, and not all of the feces come out, so there is more constipation, hemorrhoids, and the colon never gets a rest from being in contact with festering feces, causing a greater incidence of colon cancer).

Squatting has the added advantage that it is more hygienic, especially with respect to women, since the user’s private parts do not touch anything. (Most women apparently never actually sit on a public toilet, but actually sort of hover above, which is much more uncomfortable than squatting all the way down.) Also, the squatting position is more accessible and intuitive for little children, since the floor is the same height for everyone, while a toilet bowl made for adults is much too big, uncomfortable and unsafe for them. Furthermore, in Urine-diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs), the squatting position allows for a more certain separation of the urine and the feces, plus it is easier and cheaper to build.

In Ecuador, where does all the sanitation waste go? How much water is used and what effect does this have on the environment?
Almost all of Ecuadorian cities’ wastewater goes straight into rivers or bays, except for Cuenca, Shushufindi, and a few other cases where wastewater treatment is done.

The amount of water is huge and the excrement’s nutrients fertilize algae that end up dying and thus consuming the available oxygen in the water, creating the eutrophication and hypoxic zones mentioned above. But the biggest threat is that of pathogens in the water, which are responsible for the majority of disease in the world.

Many people have daily contact with rivers, for bathing, washing clothes or drinking, even only minutes after others have defecated in it, so it is obvious how disease can proliferate. Need more proof? Check out this:

I can just imagine the collective shit and piss from the hundreds of thousands of people living in Ecuadorian cities like Coca, Tena, and Puyo flowing into these Amazonian Rivers. What I find scary however is that this problem is not confined to Ecuador or even the South American Amazon but is worldwide.

What happens to communities that live on river banks, lakes, and areas prone to flooding with respect to worms, bacteria, and water-bourne diseases, like cholera that can be prevented with this system?

Yes, it is a discomforting thought, but the volume of shit is actually much greater if we remember that the millions of people who live in certain Andean cities in Ecuador, including Latacunga, Ambato, Riobamba, Cuenca, and Loja, also dump their waste into Amazonian rivers. Unfortunately, as you say, this situation is all too common in the world, where 90% of wastewater goes into the environment without proper treatment.

Even in countries like the United States, where things are presumably all under control, there are thousands of “sanitary accidents” every year, in which untreated sewage goes straight into the environment.

There are also numerous pharmaceuticals that cannot be removed from the water via conventional methods, such as antibiotics, antidepressives, and artificial hormones from birth control pills.

In addition, the current system of trying to kill the germs in the water with chemicals in one city, and the next downstream, and the next downstream, is a recipe for these germs to get resistant to these chemicals, especially if at the same time people are drinking and bathing in other peoples antibiotics. This has generated multiresistant strains of microbes that we cannot kill with chemicals to heal the people who get sick with them , nor can we be sure to disinfect a swimming pool even by adding chlorine.

In terms of health, the worst thing about flooding is that everyone is in everyone else’s shit.

This is an even bigger problem on the coast of Ecuador, where huge areas get flooded, with millions of people being affected, and it is getting worse with Global Climate Disruption. Urine-diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs), on the other hand, can simply be built above the highest level of the flood waters.Ascaris

One of the scariest results of all this fecal contamination, aside from diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, poliomyelitis, hepatitis, and other microbial diseases, is the high incidence of roundworms of the genus Ascaris, which infect about one-seventh of the world human population . There is a reason that the word for disgust in Spanish, “asco”, is so similar:

  • These can be almost as thick as a pencil and up to 40 cm long.
  • When babies are deparasitized, their diapers sometimes look like plates of noodles.
  • Adult female roundworms produce 200,000 eggs per day and these can be viable in shaded, moist soil for years.
  • The eggs do not just get swallowed and develop into adults in the intestines. Instead, they have intermediate stages that navigate in the host’s bloodstream, throughout the body. Eventually, they come out into the alveoli of the lungs, get coughed up and swallowed, and only then become adults.
  • Roundworm infection is a big factor in many children doing poorly in school, since the worms consume so much of their food that little is left for the kids’ brains.

In Part 2 of this article Chris Canaday will tell us about the solution to human waste disposal and how it will solve much of the planets sustainability problems.

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.