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Fleeing the poverty of remote villages in Ecuador

In the 1960s, the discovery of oil in Ecuador transformed the country, bringing progress in health, education and housing. But with the fall in oil prices and damage to the country’s agriculture from the effects of the ‘El Nino’ weather, recession has affected the economy.

But even before the harder economic times, not all sections of society have benefited from the wealth created by the oil exports. Compared to the Spanish-descended elite, indigenous people are often desperately poor. Many indigenous communities, who speak their own local language more than Spanish, are situated in extremely remote rural areas, and villagers often have long treks to reach shops and services in the nearest towns. And there is little prospect of finding work in rural areas, so many adults leave their children behind with parents or older siblings, in order to earn a living elsewhere.

The predicament of such remote communities has recently been highlighted by a case which has shocked people in Ecuador and across South America. In a small, remote village of Ecuador, with only 600 inhabitants, families survive because one or more of the adults work away from home. Despite the dangers and uncertainty of crossing the border, most head for the USA, to work illegally. In one such family, the oldest son, Freddy, was left to look after his 5 siblings along with his grandmother, while his mother and father worked in America.

But at 17 years old and with a wife, as well as his siblings to support, Freddy found there was not enough money. So like his parents before him, he decided to try his luck in the USA and paid smugglers 15,000 dollars for the trip. However, his group of 72 migrants were discovered by an infamous Mexican drugs gang called Los Zetas, near the Mexican border with the US. Refusing to become drug mules, the migrants were shot.

With a bullet in his neck, Freddy managed to escape. One other young migrant also survived the massacre. The rest were not so lucky and their bodies were recently discovered by Mexican authorities. Two investigating policemen in Mexico who were on the case have already been killed and the Ecuadorian government has put Freddy under police protection along with his wife. He is now living at an undisclosed location, his life in serious danger from the drugs cartel.

Despite the dangers highlighted by Freddy’s experiences, nothing much is likely to change for the locals of his village. With a lack of education and endemic poverty, many feel the only option they have to feed their families is to follow the route of other migrants. And though Freddy had a miraculous escape, others may not be so fortunate.

Laurinda Luffman signature