I´ve been visiting the city of Quito, Ecuador for the past couple weeks in an effort to improve my Spanish and become better acquainted with Latin America. Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is its second largest city with a population of just under two million. It is in many ways a beautiful place, located in a high valley with massive mountains rising abruptly from the city´s edge. Refurbished colonial style Spanish buildings in the historical center, along with many ornate churches give it an old European flavor, a welcome contrast to the sterile suburban desert of the US.
Like most of Latin America, though, Ecuador has an extraordinary level of inequality, even higher than the US. It´s a poorer country, so the inequality appears even starker. The Ecuadorian people, like all of us living on this planet, are pinned under the iron heel of global capitalism. Their problems are the same as everyone else´s, colored of course by their own unique history. What does the Quito version of global capitalism look like? In the name of what the economists call efficiency and freedom, vast majorities struggle to make ends meet. To me, the most obvious impressions in Quito are poverty, inequality, and the threat of crime. Poverty is noticable everywhere, from the run down homes and buildings, to the poorly maintained streets and sidewalks, to the buses which continuously belch clouds of soot into the air, and to the horrible air quality. In stark contrast, there are oases of great wealth throughout the city, the abodes of the middle and upper classes. Life is quite good for the elites as even much of the middle class can afford maids, taking advantage of the low wages that poverty permits.
Everywhere one goes, especially in the more popular locales, one finds a vast presense of well armed police, fully attired in bullet proof vests. Their presence is of course welcome to a traveling tourist but it´s also a stark reminder of how dangerous the place is. How could it be otherwise though? An essentially feudal system can only be sustained through massive police power. And we see it throughout the world, from the US military and security / prison aparatus right down to the reality on the streets in Quito. Military, police, security agencies, guards, prisons. A necessary feature of a grossly unequal global society.
Well, that´s enough for now. I´m headed back to the streets of Quito and will continue my day of walking through the city. Despite the stark reality of capitalism permeating Quito, I have to admit that I really do like the city. Perhaps the poverty gives the streets a sense of freedom that is missing from the bastions of upper class locales. The people are very friendly, music is everywhere, and one has to love the soul of Latin culture.
¡Me gusta mucho Quito!