Category: World News

Afro Ecuadorians Are Making Headlines

By Azalia Cruz and Ken A. Epstein

Quito, Ecuador – Ecuador, a small country mostly known for the Galapagos Islands on the Pacific coast of South America, has never been on the radar for most Americans – at least until it defied the U.S. by allowing WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange to take refuge in the country’s London Embassy.

Chota River Valley

Chota River Valley

Even less well known in the U.S. is that the country is the home of a vibrant culture of Afro Ecuadorians, who make up as much as 10 percent of the population and whose soccer stars have captured global headlines.

One of the centers of Afro Ecuadorian culture lies in the Chota River Valley in the Andean highlands several hours by bus north of Quito near the border with Colombia.  Here in farming villages along the river, including Juncal, a community of 1,800 inhabitants, many of Ecuador’s best soccer players grow up practicing on dusty fields.

Juncal and the Chota Valley have entered Ecuador’s consciousness as the birthplace of one of the country’s most famous soccer stars, Augustín Delgado, nicknamed Tín.  Delgado, now   retired, is the all-time top scorer for the Ecuadorian national team. He played professionally in Ecuador, Mexico and England.

Other well known soccer players include Ulises de la Cruz, Edison Mendez, Kléver Chalá and Geovanny Espinoza.

Post correspondent Azalia Cruz (second from left) interviews community leaders in Juncal, Ecuador. Shown (L to R):  Residents of Juncal, Cota Valley, Ecuador. Shown (L to R): Pendro Manuel Julio, Segundo Mosquera and Patricio Borja. Photos by K. Epstein

Post correspondent Azalia Cruz (second from left) interviews community leaders in Juncal, Ecuador. Shown (L to R):Pendro Manuel Julio, Segundo Mosquera and Patricio Borja. Photos by K. Epstein

On a recent trip to Chota, two Post reporters were given a tour of the town by Pedro Manuel Julio, a spokesman for Juncal and a few of the neighboring villages; Patricio Borja, who plays drums at local festivities; and Segundo Mosquera, who heads the Intercultural Community Center, which promotes Afro Ecuadorian culture and history as well as that of other countries of the African diaspora, particularly the United States.

The tour took the reporters past young men who were practicing soccer on the field near the Chota River at the edge of town. Many of Juncal’s residents were watching young women play volleyball in the center of town, knocking the ball over a net stretched across the main street.

Pedro Manuel Julio explained that most of the people are involved in agriculture, though nowadays many of the young men more interested in playing soccer. The town grows and sells tomatoes, strawberries, onions, green peppers, beans and other produce for the nearby market in the city of Ibarra.

Young men play soccer near the main highway

Young men play soccer near the main highway

The town has a health center, built with funds donated by soccer star Augustín Delgado.

In the cultural center, Patricio Borja, playing a drum, and Narcisa de Jesús demonstrated the Bomba del Chota, a well-known dance form in which the dancer often balances a bottle on her head.

With music that is rooted in Africa, the dance uses drums and improvisation to build relationships between the dancer and lead drummer. This music and dance is said to also have prominent Spanish, mestizo and indigenous influences in the melodies. Among the instruments that are important in the Bomba are a leaf of a tree that is used to make a special sound and gourds.

The cultural center featured large displays of Afro Ecuadorian history, as well as the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S., especially Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.   A display of African American music highlighted jazz, blues, gospel and hip-hop.

One of the key problems in the town is the lack of a source of clean water.  The water that the town uses comes the Chota River, which is not adequate. The town leaders are working with the government to bring water to Juncal.

Intercultural Center, El Juncal

Intercultural Center, El Juncal

Government support for irrigating the area is especially important in this valley, which has a hot climate and desert landscapes that contrast with the rest of  province.

Most Afro-Ecuadorians are the descendants of slaves or escaped slaves, who originally arrived in Ecuador in the early 16th century. In 1533, the first African slaves reached Ecuador in Quito when a slave ship heading to Peru was stranded off the Ecuadorian coast.

The slaves escaped and established settlements in Esmeraldas, which became a safe haven. Eventually, they started moving from their traditional homeland and settled in Chota and other areas.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 24, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

President of Ecuador Welcomes Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin

By Ken A. Epstein.

Quito, Ecuador – Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin visited Ecuador this week to meet with President Rafael Correa to make common cause in their ongoing disputes with Chevron, one of the world’s six “supermajor” oil companies.

McLaughlin, who has clashed with Chevron over environmental contamination at the company’s refinery in Richmond, on Tuesday accompanied President Correa  to visit Lagro Agario in the Amazon rainforest, which is one of the zones affected by the company Texaco (now Chevron) during the 1970s through the 1990s.

Richmond, CA Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was shown here on Monday shaking hands with President of Ecuador Rafael Correa on a balcony of the national palace, el Palacio de Carondelet. Photo courtesy of Telégrafo, Quito, Ecuador.

Richmond, CA Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was shown here on Monday shaking hands with President of Ecuador Rafael Correa on a balcony of the national palace, el Palacio de Carondelet. Photo courtesy of Telégrafo, Quito, Ecuador.

The Lago Agrio oil field is well known internationally for serious ecological problems that oil development has created there, including water pollution, soil contamination and deforestation.

Since 1993, lawyers representing local residents have sought to force former well operator Texaco and its now parent company Chevron Corporation to clean up the area and to provide for the care of those allegedly affected.

In February 2011, an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion in compensation, a ruling the company called “illegitimate” and vowed to appeal.

In a press statement released on Tuesday, Chevron criticized Correa’s visit to the Amazon as a “media show.”

“President Correa has decided to interfere once again in the Chevron case, despite the appeal filed by the company before the National Court of Justice. This time he took the local and international press to sites (in the Amazon) and offered a distorted and inaccurate account of the history of these sites and who is responsible for any environmental impact,” the press statement said.

Courtesy of the Richmond Post, September 18, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

Remembering Hugo Chavez, Who Aided Hurricane Katrina Victims

By Ken A. Epstein

As millions of Venezuelans mourn the death of 58-year-old President Hugo Chavez, a number of local residents remember the controversial leader’s efforts on behalf of the poor in his country and the U.S.

Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez

Under Chavez, the CITGO – Venezuela Heating Oil Program has provided low-cost heating oil to 1.7 million people in the colder parts of the U.S. and free heating oil to Native Americans living on tribal lands since 2005.

The program helps 153,000 households a year and 252 tribal communities.

The program began when Jesse Jackson was visiting Chavez, and the two were watching the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Shocked by the disaster, Chavez asked Jackson what Venezuela could do to help.

Venezuela opened CITGO’s petroleum company’s warehouses to be used as shelters in affected areas. Chavez later started providing heating oil to 25 states, which included Harlem in New York City and Washington, DC.

Many people in the U.S. do not realize that an estimated 67 percent of the population of Venezuela is mixed race, including President Chavez, who often spoke of his African, indigenous and Spanish roots, according to Martín Sánchez, an East Bay resident who was formerly consul of Venezuela in San Francisco and is a member of an organization in Venezuela: The Network of Afro Venezuelan Organizations.

The network lobbied for a law to promote the rights of Afro Venezuelans, which passed in 2011.

“The law actually aroused people to file lawsuits against employers and owners of housing,” said Sánchez.

According to statistics, education and medical care has improved, and poverty in the country fell from 67 percent in 1997 to 27.4 percent in 2011.

Among U.S. celebrities who made many visits to Venezuela to meet with Chavez are Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and Oliver Stone, said Sánchez.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 8, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)