The last two Rundbriefe
A new lease on life
Since 1. October 2015 I work and live in the North of Ecuador. In late 2014 I had gotten a call from an English head hunting firm, which was looking for socalled Autoridades for President Raffael Correa’s brand new university project. I visited a couple of times and gradually grew into my current position, exchanging information electronically and discussing issues by Skype. During a one month visit to my former place of employment Argonne National Laboratory in March 2014 I flew to Pasedena California, where I was interviewed by the Comisión Gestora and somehow got the rather well paid job right on the Equator. It is probably fair to say that neither their nor my expectation as they emerged in the interview are as yet fully realized.
Finishing off her Spanish was also on Elisabeth’s agenda so she pulled up the stakes once more and within a few months set up a new home in the country side between Ibarra and Urcuquí. There was some talk of us getting old and less flexible, the need to slow down etc, but it all made little difference in the end. She was immediately recruited by Yachay Tech’s English department to teach technical staff and the mostly Spanish speaking professors English. While she lacks the usually required Master in language teaching of one sort or another, we thought that her background as a Diplommathematiker would benefit the professors form various sciences. They have to teach everything in English once the students have finished the four semester common core and then enter into their specialty, of which there are currently 10, all with a STEM=MINT flavor. Elisabeth also is teaching two levels of German classes rather late in the evening. She wanted to reduce the English load to halftime, but was told that was not possible and now her contract was not renewed at all for the new year. We’ll see what happens. By the way, in my humble opinion the lady speaks much better Spanish than myself and all other import gringos around, be they actually Northamerican or not.
I had thought that after a half a year on the ground I would have Spanish pretty much down, given that I had wrestled with it before and know some French. But even after a full year its still a construction sight one one seems to make the same very basic errors time and again ‚donde es?‘, ‚quatros años‘ etc. Teaching in Spanish is at least half a year off, if not a full year. Sometimes the decision in the morning is whether to do some Spanish grammar or to drive 20 minutes to the pool to fight the battle of the bulge (batalla de barriga). The whether here at 2000 m above the equator is so pleasant that one can swim all year round out doors. For lack of a private pool one has to drive some 18 minutes to an olympic pool with super clean water and views on the two house vulcanos or 22 minutes to the pool of the Universidad Technica del Norte. Like for many other goodies including airfares (except for the taxes etc. ) we only have to pay half the price on account of our old age (tercera edad.)
I continue to be involved in various national and international organizations concerning science and education, especially with regards to the developing world. In late 2012 I was elected to the SIAM Council for a first three year period, currently I am also a member of the board.
The kids are alright
I am still married and have four children as well as six grand children who come along amazingly well. Of course they all live in Europe but three of the kids and three of the kids have actually come for a visit.
Hobbys and such
My last real hobby was sailplane gliding, below you see may partner Stony and me when we flew in Gariep Dam South Africa some eight years ago. Will still jointly own a Cirrus sailplane but I have not flown it for four years. I rarely get around to play the guitar a little bit. I wrote a little article about the advantages of tuning guitars in five major thirds which has yet to revolutionize the scene mathtunefull.
Politics and Life on Earth
I continue to be against at the continuing display of Western ignorance, arrogance and intermittent brutality towards the rest of the world. Since November 19th 2001 when our then chancelor Gerhard Schröder(SPD) bullied parlament into approving the participation of German troops in the illegal and futile invasion of Afghanistan I have been a member of ‚Die Linke‘ , who has consistenly opposed military iterventions. I have materially and intellectually contributed to the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research lead by Jan Oberg of Sweden. After my return to Germany from the US I soon joined the Dramstädter Signal , a group current and former soldiers of the „Bundeswehr“ and the „Nationale Volksarmee“ who continue to insist hat the German Basic Law confines the „Bundeswehr“ for good reasons to a strictly defensive role.
Currently things look very grim, with national and international institutions holding less and less regulatory power. Ecuador might not be the worst place to be in the next decade. Yes, I thought that Brexit was/is stupid. No, I did not think that rhetorical ornament of Wall Street was a safe option, least of all with respect to international affairs. As to the victorious Berlusconi clone, no woman I talked to strongly expressed disgust for his predatory habits, and of course many white women voted for him. Here is my theory: may be, the supposedly revulsed women are just not so sure that, really deep down,most of the more or less well-mannered men they deal with daily tick all that different from Mr. Trump. It would of course be a terrible step back if he did away with the Paris climate agreements and Obama’s main achievements like the Affordable Care Act. As to the super boogeyman Putin, he is mainly a concoction of the Western press, whose lamentable uniformity is not based on common reasoning, but intellectual laziness and cowardice. Here is a suitably dim outlook from a sailplane over South Africa. We might get sucked into the storm cloud after all.
Here is a little report that I wrote after staying in the US and Russia for extended periods in early 2015. My Putinism already shows through. russiathree.
On the Ecuadorian Elections (Preelection Assessment late 2016)
Finally, a word regarding the upcoming elections in Ecuador with the first round on the 19th of February 2017. There are eight binomios = presidential, vice-presidential candidate pairs, each one nicely balanced between a costeño and a serrano. The division between coastal and highland regions is almost more pronounced than the difference between West and East Germany. A candidate like Jaime Nebót, the mayor of the largest Ecuadorian city Guayaquil swept the coast but got little support in the highlands during his past presidential runs. This time he delegated the job of candidacy to his former press secretary Cynthia Viterí who teamed up with a serrano to form what is one of the four leading ‚binomios‘.
President Correa has been an equal opportunity antagonizer leaving in his wake infuriated opponents of his party Alianza Pais on the traditional right, the traditional left, various trade unions, the indigenous leadership, most environmentalist, and even high ranks of the military. For several years his rule has been systematically criticized by the leading newspapers as corrupt, authoritarian, megalomanic, demagogical etc. I have heard similar characterizations on the radio, but do not understand the ownership structure. Such harsh criticism of the government by the ‚mainstream press‘ is hard to imagine in any one of the Western democracies that I have lived in. Yet the question is here, even more so than in other places, whom the mainstream press effectively reaches. After all 40% of the population is indigenous whose tenuous hold on Spanish would probably not make them enjoy deciphering the hyperbolic writing in El Comércio and El Universo. That certainly is difficult for me. Also, some of the criticism is directed at tricks of the trade that are used in politics everywhere, e.g.
- Opening public works with great fanfare, even though they were initiated by a previous administration, and without talking much about the cost overruns and loans that were needed to finish them.
- Investing in regional airports and other big infrastructure projects or heavily subsidizing private company investments that flop in the end for some reason or another.
- Dipping into social security and other reserves to make the budget look more or less balanced, at least until the next election.
- Blaming economical difficulties on outside effects that were „naturally“ unforseeable.
- Making individual bad apples responsible for corruption rather than admitting an institutional pattern.
- Privileging friendly journalists with information and giving unfriendly ones the run around or even misleading data.
- Using public money to promote the agenda of the governing party or parties.
- Giving provinces and municipalities with friendly leadership special consideration.
- Switching alliances by dumping losers like Venezuela and courting ascending powers like the Chinese, even when their conditions were rejected earlier.
- etc, etc.
I can’t tell whether these practices are really more prevalent in Ecuador than elsewhere in the region and beyond. Some people claim that there is a terrible amount of corruption, but I cannot verify that. Two reasons why I would probably vote for Correa’s binomio Lenín Moreno and Jorge Glass:
- There is not much reason to believe that the leading opposition candidates would do significantly better. All but one are closely tied to one of the many pre-Correa administrations who have a rather dubious record. Several Ecuadorians who came back from the outside told me that the country has overall rather dramatically changed for the better.
- Correa gave Assange asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. At least the conservative opposition candidates would probably sacrifice him on the altar of better relations with the US and its poodles Britain and Sweden. I would love to have Assange heading ‚my‘ department of Computer Science, though most of his publication are not really indexed and the CG would probably not go along.
Number 2 would make me a kind of single issue voter, it does not play a big role in the campaign. Number 1 is in my view the prime reason why the government will win once more. It will probably also help that Moreno despite his combative first name Lenín ( there are also a lot of Stalins around in Ecuador) has not ruffled nearly as many feathers as the outgoing president, and, sitting in a wheel chair due to a shooting accident, has a record of championing causes of physically or mentally impaired people. The opposition paints him as Correa’s puppet and charges his partner Glass with corruption in connection with the semi-public oil company Petroamazon. Of course, a win by Moreno-Glass would mean that the project Yachay continues, which would not at all be clear if the opposition wins. While Yachay is anything but a leftish project, conservative politicians would probably find it hard to bring an idea to fruition that everybody attributes primarily to Correa.
On the Ecuadorian Elections (Post First Round Assessment February 2017)
Almost a week after the first round on February 19th things look bleak if not downright worrisome. Ecuador could be heading into a Venezuelan type confrontation and stalemate. Here is my reasoning.
Lenín Moreno, Correa’s Delfín as they say in Spanish (or Medvedev if you want to draw a nasty parallel) just missed the 40% needed to get elected for good in the first round. The second candidate Guillermo Lasso reached 28%, which means more than 10% behind Moreno, another condition for a first round win. So there will be a second round on April 2nd.
I heard Lasso give a talk at the nearby university of Ottavalo (which I head never heard off before). Straight Reaganite stuff: Just lower taxes and interests to make the private sector generate one million jobs in the next four years. He repeated that ridiculous number (for a population of some 15 million Ecuadorians) many times and claims to have generated many jobs in his twenty years as a banker in Guayaquil. The Mitt Romney kind of job generation, I suppose. Every Dollars in private pockets is much more likely to generate economic growth than money spend by the evil, big government, and so on. We have heard the tune. His handicap seemed to be that he was in politics at the time of an economic meltdown in 1999 after which many Ecuadorians left the country and the country was dollarized in 2001. I have spoken to a formerly leading figure of the Ecuadorian upper crust, who confirmed that there was indeed a lot of abuse with private bankers taking all the money and running off to Miami for good. I am sure Correa’s party the Allianza Pais will taint Lasso with that association in the second round where he is the only opponent, but it did not seem to work that well in the first round.
Partly the failure to reach 40% can be blamed on Moreno appearing like a rather reluctant candidate. He did dodge the first of two televised debates of all eight candidates, claiming that it being organized by the Guayaquil chamber of commerce meant that its format was slanted against him and the government. In the second debate, organized by the opposition paper El Comercio in Quito, he did not really defend the AP government’s ten year record, which is partly quite good by all accounts. Instead, he tried to outdo the opposition candidates with unrealistic promises for the future, 350 000 new lodgings etc. As during the whole campaign, Correa intervened with Twitter comments, thus depriving Moreno of his independent status as a candidate and giving the impression that he himself still wants to be the puppet master, which is of course what the opposition alleges all along. There are rumors that from his wheel chair Moreno can only work a few hours a day.
The opposition is fragmented between four other candidates and two more who gained only negligible support. The third placed at 16 percent, a woman called Cynthia Viteri, is ideologically barely distinguishable from Lasso and immediately pledged her support for him. She has five kids, a doctorado in law and at 51 much less baggage than Lasso, I think she would have been even harder to beat in the second round. The forth and sixth placed are basically more to the left and their voters could possibly move to Moreno in the second round. However, many of them seem also whopping mad about the current governments autocratic tendencies and the widely spread allegations of corruption, which engulf in particular the current vice president and ticket partner of Moreno, Jorge Glass. Those people might not vote at all or overcome their anti-banquero impulses holding their noses. It remains to be seen whether Lasso will try to formulate compromise policies to form a wider coalition. Both Lasso and Viteri have stated that the London embassy is not a hotel and that they will save the Ecuadorian people from further expenses by booting Assange onto the streets. The current foreign minister Guillermo Long, quite an impressive fast talking guy, has publicly admitted that the siege-like situation is quite a strain on the embassy personal, but that may be just his way of applying for a job with the new administration.
Unless Moreno turns himself into a real candidate in a hurry, or Lasso has some real skeletons in the closet, AP will probably not win the second round. That’s where it gets complicated, because AP has definitely secured an absolute majority in parliament, where there is no second round. So if Correa can keep his troops together, despite tempting offers from the not entirely non-corrupt opposition, they can blockade a Lasso government in the legislature, so that a period of divided government and even chaos ensues. One of the things that Correa has achieved, is to overcome very significant political instability that marked the decade prior to his ascension to power in 2007. Thus, there might arise a growing sentiment that after all, things were not too bad under him as Caudillo, and that he should come back. He surely would be only too willing to oblige and he has a legal mechanism tool to do that, in the so-called muerte cruzada. Contrary to some claims even in the Spanish quality paper El Pais, Correa did not desist voluntarily from participating as a candidate this time. There was a two-term limit (he did already two and a half) which he had removed using his large majority in the house. However in view of wide-spread opposition with rather large demonstrations last summer he relented and made the change only from the next election onward. But after a, possibly short, intervening Lasso government, he would be eligible indefinitely if ‚his‘ house majority forces a double dissolution (said muerte cruzada) of parliament and government, leading to a new election of both. On the other hand the current opposition has promised to (re-)investigate the involvement of current AP officials in the alleged wide-spread corruption, which has already made one former minister leave the country. Correa himself has at times ‚promised‘ to leave for Belgium, where he did his Master in economics and met his wife.
In conclusion, the stage seems to be set for a very ugly confrontation between AP and the assorted opposition parties and groups. There is very litte middle ground, except possibly the armed forces. They already published a statement calling for the respect of the will of the Ecuadorian people when the election authority seemed to draw out the conclusion that Moreno had failed to reach the 40%. But that could lead down another well trodden and ugly path in recent Latin American history. I have not heard from the catholic church, which is said to have considerable influence certainly on ethical issues like abortion. One can only hope there will be a third way between a Venezuelan like stalemate and a military take-over.
After the second round ( April 13)
It is now some ten days after the second round and it looks like Lenín Moreno will definitely be the next president of Ecuador. The opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso has still not conceded and asked for a full recount, but only a partial one was granted by the election authority CNE. Many opponents are convinced that there was a significant amount of manipulated votes and some are still protesting in front of the CNE offices in Quito and Guayaquil. My expectation is that those protests will die down and fortunately there have been no casualties or injuries. However, the media confrontation is very intensive, with the official media pursuing news organization who during some period reported one exit poll that had the opposition candidate win by a significant margin. The opposition press and especially the blogs 4pelagatos and planv have been devastating in their critique of the official juggernaut and especially its candidate Lenín Moreno. He is in fact an easy target. Asked by he studied public administration by distance learning from Geneva at the Universidad Central in Quito he confided to really having dreamt of studying medicine, psychology, or quantum physics in that order. Only after failing to achieve these high goals he stooped to a licenciatura ( = 5 year degree ) in public administration, which as the detractors point out can officially not be studied long distance at the Central.