Buen Vivir

Beyond Capitalism?

There is a grand experiment afoot here, an initiative to do more than merely subsist or materially profit. It’s called Buen Vivir. To live well. Based on an older Andean ideal called (in Kichwa): Sumak Kawsay.
The meaning is more nuanced than it first appears; it’s not solely about the good life of an individual but about a good life within the community. And the community includes a harmonious cohabitation with nature and the world. It’s not a system designed to profit the 1%, it’s an actual plan, a roadmap, which along with their constitution encapsulates a vision for what Ecuador is striving to become. The 12 directions envisioned, corresponding to 12 points of the Andean cross (chakana), are:
  1. To Foster Social and Territorial Equality, Cohesion, and Integration with Diversity.
  2. To Improve the Citizens’ Capabilities and Potentialities.
  3. To Improve the Quality of Life of the Population.
  4. To Guarantee the Rights of Nature and Promote a Healthy and Sustainable Environment.
  5. To Guarantee Sovereignty and Peace; to Promote Ecuador’s Strategic Insertion in the World, and Latin American Integration.
  6. To Guarantee Stable, Fair and Dignified Work in its Diverse Forms.
  7. To Build and Strengthen Public and Intercultural Spaces for Social Interactions.
  8. To Affirm and Strengthen National Identity, Diverse Identities, Plurinationalism and Interculturalism.
  9. To Guarantee Rights and Justice.
  10. To Guarantee Access to Public and Political Participation.
  11. To Establish a Sustainable Socio-economic System Based on Solidarity.
  12. To Build a Democratic State for Good Living.
These priorities emphasize community, respect for nature and integration with diversity. Almost each point stands in blatant contrast to pure capitalism, which is more focused on the unfettered market as a rudder for a morality and progress based on immediate and personal gain. As if a free market itself will somehow work out for the public good. Just like the “trickle down” belief … how’s that working for us? Too soon?
Models of progress through development like we have in the US and most of the “first” world, rely on an infinitely expanding pool of consumers and producers … it’s not really designed to ever come to a state of balance and it assumes unlimited resources. We’re slowly discovering that’s not the case and a number of our assumptions, which may have worked on smaller scales of human population, are wrecking havoc in the massively populated world of today.
There are only so many cars we can sell, until everybody has one or two and the world chokes on smog (imagine if everyone in India and China had a car?) And then come the layoffs in the factories and the distribution chains that depend on steady and growing sales. Making and selling more and more stuff sustains jobs, which requires tapping more and more raw resources and siphoning more energy from the planet is not a viable long term solution. And that “long term” is looking more and more like today, instead of some distant future.
There are, however, some very very rich interests that don’t want to see these wheels grind to a stop until the world itself does. And then they’ll step off and claim it was a good ride, while it lasted. The best game in town. For them. But Buen Vivir is more about us. Respect for each of us, our children, their children and these long suffering, intelligent entities of nature and this mother earth that makes living here possible.


This is a new type of constitution, not just about an individual’s rights “to the pursuit of happiness”, but about their responsibilities to each other and to a world where we have been nothing but takers. Perhaps we can learn to live with, and even respect, the diversity that is our world and our selves before we, and it, are destroyed in the wake of our rigid and limited vision. Or not.


It’s 2:26pm and I’m still in my pajamas. Dinner out with friends last night, ate something sketchy, many trips to toilet subsequent. Was planning to fast tonight, from 6pm to 6pm tomorrow. Decided just to start early, counting from 9pm last night. There’s a little girl, lives down the hall from us. Never knew much of her story, but today the ambulance came for her Mom who has stage 4 cancer. The Mom who adopted her, the one with the cancer, is living here with the girl’s biological mom and they are all staying for two months. They cook a lot in their apartment, and we usually smell garlicky-butter goodness as we pass their door coming back from our roundabouts downtown. Other people living here are more mysterious. One couple lived for a while in the apartment next door. He played the flute everyday outside his front door; his wife approached me one day, having forgotten where she lived, saying she had to return a sweater to me. But it was her husbands. She had my name right, which was odd, as it wasn’t the same as her husbands. The sweater was her husband’s though. The architects from France all moved out, when the money dried up for the tram construction. The money is back now, but they haven’t returned.

The tram work is now right outside our window. They work unpredictable hours. Sometimes at 3 in the morning. A lot of manual labor. One day, after a heavy rain, a worker was bailing water out of a deep trench with a can the size of a drinking glass. Took him several hours.

Guayaquil is a dangerous place, we keep hearing. We have become recently acquainted with a couple living there. They are Japanese, have a young son and live in a gated community. But the wife is fearful. She heard from a teacher, a neighbor, that two children were found last week dead, their eyes and organs removed. They suspect gangs. I searched the online newspapers, in Spanish, but she was right, nothing was reported. Just the high profile case about the two girls from Argentina. We have no plans to visit, either Guayaquil or Quito except maybe the airports.

Each night I’ve been going out to the central park, two blocks from here to sit on a bench and smoke a single cigarette. After years of smoking, quiting, switching to vapes, stopping, smoking only on vacation, etc. I decided that for now, I enjoy smoking, but my body is less resilient than it once was, so I limit it to one a day. Five days of the week. Go through about a pack a month. On the bench I watch people. Some are friendly, we greet each other. One guy I walk past on the way, usually standing outside his restaurant, has started to holler “Hola familia!” I replied “Trabajando duro!” last night, which is like “working hard!” But he’s really not. But he kind of is, standing out there all the time…

A lot of making out goes on in the park. Young couples without privacy at home, with no car. Some break dancing over under the pavilion. Many nights the pavilion is taken over by the police band, who come to practice. I’m pretty sure. But they get scattered applause after each set, even with several wonky notes. Occasionally the big red tourista bus pulls up, double decker, open seating on the top, a smattering of people disembarking. Sometimes I can see the moon in the Andean skies which are usually overcast at night.

Miko’s operation for removing her cataracts went seamlessly. We had both done at once. I guess that’s not the usual procedure, but they accommodated our request on the fly (we thought we were having both done, they had assumed we were doing one then another a week later, as is the norm.) She’s enjoying her new vision, unfettered by glasses and contacts. Her eyes are still converging for distance sight, we have an appointment in a couple of weeks when it should be stabilized but so far she’s happy with the results.

Spanish classes, intermediate now, are in full swing again. And other than accidentally calling the teacher a monkey, our progress continues.

Yesterday(?) was the Spring equinox and Miko made an interesting observation that here it’s always equinox. The sun rises and sets the same time everyday on the equator with very little variation. Which gave me that kind of “aha!” moment. And I started thinking about cycles and how they influence life and perhaps escape from the problematic ones depend on where our vantage points lie. And some recent experiments that seem to shift my linear perceptions a bit into more spatial ones when I move my “awareness-from” down to my heart or below my belly button… and then my philosophy circuits switched back offline…

I’ve been experimenting with new types of fruit and posting the logs on facebook, so I won’t repeat it here. Wasn’t sure I was going to publish this or not, but it’s been a while…

Amendments and Protests

Last night streets were clogged with people, tires burning on the sidewalks. Police ringing the park and guarding the entrance to the old/new cathedral and  entrances to government offices.

Rocks were thrown, tear gas hurled. Helicopters circled. A little research on twitter feeds hashtag cuenca informed me they were protesting 15 amendments to the constitution that passed with a landslide majority vote in the house. There were 4 amendments that seem to incite the most intense reactions. One extended the number of times certain positions could be re-elected , including the presidency (but, importantly, not for the current president.). And reminiscent of the fervor in the US about Obama being Muslim, it seemed a lot of misinformed people were angry. They frothed at Correa’s power-grab to remain in office and enact more of his evil socialist agendas. Even though the amendment explicitly ruled, at Correa’s behest, that it would go into effect after the next election, removing himself as a point of contention. But many an impassioned and indignant protester subscribes to their own data filters.

To be fair, an incumbent has more potential control and influence over media which may unfairly bolster their re-election chances. Especially along with this next amendment…

Article 384 is all about communications in mass media being a public service; some think this could be interpreted as the state being able to censor the media for the public good. The wording of the article itself claims its value is providing access to a more “truthful and objective” sourcing. This could go either way, media is powerful for good and/or evil, and has become a medium known more for furthering agendas than reporting objectively. Everybody is struggling with this issue. In the past Ecuador has had some bad experiences with private, moneyed interests driving public opinion through their complete control of the media (Rupert Murdoch, anyone?)

Article 158 allows military to support the security of the state, if necessary. A particularly sensitive issue in South American where military has often been misused. The ideal was to have the latitude in exceptional circumstances to mobilize help, the suspicion is this could be interpreted broadly and used to suppress individual freedoms and intimidate the public.

Article 88 tacked a little clause at the end of the existing right of an individual to file judicial complaints against state acts and essentially gives the state authority to reject complaints deemed to be illegitimate and just abusing the system. Who decides when lawsuits against the government are frivolous? Tough question.

So these are some of the “issues” mentioned in the last post. There’s some overlap with issues most countries are facing in this age of media distortion, militarization of the state and the power of the individual to contest action and express a voice against the system. No easy answers, but some passionate opinions.


Two Hard Working Brothers in Quito


It’s quiet tonight. too quiet. 56 churches in the surrounding area, each with their own patron saint. Each saint celebrated with fireworks, cannons (i.e. an m-80 on a stick, thrown into the air), dancing in the streets. Some celebrations last a day, some several. That averages more than one a week; but I haven’t heard anything of the like for several days now. It’s coming though. I can feel it. The ramp up until Christmas. Parties, music, revelry, climaxing around New Years with festivals that burn effigies of your personal bogey man for the year. A politician, a superhero that sucks, that classmate that’s really annoying. It’s kind of a massive street voodoo with little fires of flammable figures all over the city. I’ll try to get some pictures this year. Next year.

The social media news, election propaganda ramping up and seasonal activities in the U.S. sometimes seems a little surreal. Living on the equator, high in the Andes mountains, we don’t really have seasons anymore. It may be rainy or not. It may be a little cooler or warmer. We don’t have terrorists, it’s safe to walk the streets of the city at night, at least here in Cuenca. We don’t have school massacres or mass murders. No road rage shootings. Not to say there is no crime or issues, but not the type the U.S. is struggling with. There’s a large population of Catholics, large indigenous populations of 12+ tribes each with their own belief systems. About 75% of the population has a mix of indigenous blood. The government is focused on raising more of the population out of poverty, encouraging people to make and buy products from their own country with economic incentives for doing so. They walk a fine line, of course, as many other countries do, between exporting their natural resources and feeding their people; but they have written the rights of nature into their constitution. There are elites with more power and influence than the masses but their ownership of the media has been curtailed so it seems less manipulated. There is corruption, but it doesn’t seem to be institutionalized, and is ferreted out when it becomes problematic. There are no laws punishing the whistle blower.

The elections are democratic, there is free enterprise, but no one is screaming socialism when taxes are used to provide assistance for the poor or elderly. The elderly actually get all of the taxes they paid for anything back at the end of the year. There were some people hollering when Correa proposed a rather steep inheritance tax. But I think his heart was in the right place. Basically he was saying that those who became rich did so because of the opportunities provided by their education, the infrastructure of the country, etc. and that the money should be returned to give others the same opportunity, not passed on to create the 1-percenter problem that consolidates wealth and power in the hands of the few.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

It’s a different latitude down here and it’s been a refreshing change so far, in many ways. —and I just realized I spelled “latitude” wrong all this time in the blog title. And I’m not even bothered :p