March 31, 2008
Small steps to better borders
Deborah Hakes is media relations coordinator for The Carter Center’s peace programs.
Buenaventura Morales has a kind face worn weary from life, and friendly eyes that hide the depression plaguing him since he fled his native Colombia after massacres to his village in 2004. His wife died along the way, and he said he feels unable to support his four children by himself; he can’t find a job in this poor border region of Ecuador. He plans to rent a small plot of land nearby to grow rice and trade it among the large refugee community here. Life on the border between Ecuador and Colombia is tough, and complicated.
“Ecuador and Colombia share a border with complicated problems from underdevelopment, guerrillas and drugs,” said Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Program at The Carter Center. “The ongoing conflict in Colombia spills over, in particular with many refugees fleeing into Ecuador. This puts additional burdens on Ecuador’s poor northern border province.”
The Carter Center is conducting a conflict-related development analysis in two towns along the Ecuador northern border with support of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and in collaboration with two grassroots Ecuadorian nongovernmental organizations. The analysis focuses on development in the border zone, including access to justice and human rights, citizen security, and youth and social inclusion. The analysis will serve as input for the creation of public policies for development in the northern border zone by Ecuador’s government.
Change comes in small forms. For example, the conflict analysis encourages inclusion by promoting the role of local organizations, such as those empowering traditionally marginalized groups to participate in local decision-making and politics. This includes organizations that educate women and provide basic services like pediatric care for the poor.
“Women were invisible before,” said Rosa Lopez, president of the Frente de Mujeres de Sucumbios, a women’s coalition that provides leadership training and owns a small women’s hospital. “Now, when the province needs something, women are at the forefront of efforts.”
One conflict identified by the analysis is the massive environmental and health damage caused by oil companies, which have left some 71,000 polluted areas across Ecuador.
Carlos Rodriguez is a resident of Barrio La Florida, a community where the primary water source glistens with petroleum and the air is thick with the stench of oil.
“My wife has breast cancer and I have respiratory problems,” he said. “My livestock have all died and no crops will grow.”
The analysis also identifies the different actors in the conflict, including indigenous communities, which are against oil extraction in the Amazon, and local authorities, who highlight the employment provided through oil. Without substantial reforms in regulating the oil industry, the conflicts may not be resolved.
Improving conditions in the area, which is crowded with asylum seekers, underdeveloped, and heavily polluted, will take time. Investing in the region, promoting bi-national initiatives, and giving opportunity where there was none before is an important first step toward change.