“Do you mean we can’t buy alcohol between Friday noon and Monday?” I asked our local mini-market guy as I purchased two bottles of my favorite (and only available) wine on Thursday afternoon. “Si, es la ley seca,” he said – the “dry law” before elections. “But don’t worry, I can always meet your needs,” he said with a wink.
Ecuadorian regional elections were held a week ago, on February 23. As a foreigner with five years’ residency in Ecuador, I knew I was qualified to vote, but I hadn’t bothered to register until a few weeks ago, when the nudge came from one of those Kafkaesque moments so familiar. For years I’ve been trying to get good broadband service, but every time I’ve gone to the local telephone office – one that keeps re-inventing itself, trying to keep up with the times – and now newly refurbished, called CNT, and with a new Internet logo: “Fast Boy” (is that a surfboard?) – I heard:
“Sorry, señora – no more lines. Come back next month,” or, in some cases, “…next year.” After three frustrating years of private and terrible internet service, I was absolutely determined when I got here this January to…well…try again!
So I walked into town to the telephone office (photo: central Cañar, circa 1969, by George Mowry, Peace Corps Volunteer)…took a number (an innovation), sat on a plastic chair and watched the Grammy’s broadcast in English on the television high in one corner (another innovation), until my number was called.
The young woman behind the desk began to fill out the formulario on her computer. Telephone? Check! National ID card? Check! Voter card? “No. But as a foreigner, I’m not required to vote.” She consulted with an older colleague sitting beside her (the one who always gave me the bad news). Nothing definite. She called her boss, then said: “Sorry, without a voter number I can’t complete the formulario. And we only have two lines left and the deadline is tomorrow.”
“Do you mean that I can’t have broadband service unless I have a voter card?”
Yep – there’s the Kafka part, and I saw not a flicker of humor or an ironic shrug. So I ran for a bus to the provincial capital, Azogues, one hour away, took a taxi to the Tribunal Electoral where, in one minute, the Republic of Ecuador had issued me a voter card. I rushed back to Cañar 15 minutes before the telephone office closed, and within a few minutes heard the sweet words: “Señora, the técnicos will come tomorrow to install your service.”
So back to the elections. I voted for Belisario Chimborazo to be re-elected mayor. Quiet, intelligent and reserved, five years ago this secondary school teacher ran against one of the usual candidates for mayor, all from one of the powerful local families with names of Cárdenas and Ordonez who have traded the position back and forth for roughly 185 years, since Cañar was declared a cantón. Then, whether the town population was tired of the same old faces, or the indigenous population in the countryside was fired up to vote, Belisario won by a slight margin. That was 2009 and we went to his victory party, surprised at some of the town faces we saw there, such as my bank manager, who gave me a hug.
I’ve watched as Belisario has worked hard to develop rural hamlets that have been ignored for generations, with schools, roads, potable water, health services, meeting halls and commercial opportunities, while trying to satisfy the demands of the townspeople (fewer potholes, water 24 hours a day, a bus terminal). I think he’s done a brilliant job. Here here is a couple of years ago inaugurating a tourist guesthouse in Caguanapampa, a village on the mountain above Cañar.
On election day I’d been directed to vote at one of the primary schools – all the schools in town and countryside are turned into polling places. I found organized calm and a quiet air of fiesta – folks sitting around chatting after having voted, outside on the street eating ice cream, with the benign presence of military and members of the five political parties standing vigil at each table. Ecuador has a long history of corruption when it comes to elections, and the indigenous-based movement and political party, Pachakutik is particularly wary. My friend Alexandra (in the white hat below), was one of those watchers, and she told me a group was standing by to follow the cars carrying the ballots to Azogues, where the official count would be made later that day.
I voted at table #5, where four young women sat handing out ballots, explaining them, and taking our signatures after. I saw an old Cañari woman signing with her thumbprint, a reminder that we are not that far from hacienda times when there were no schools for Cañari children. After, I was given a new card, certifying that I had voted in 2014.For Ecuadorians this card is serious – voting is obligatory by law, and you cannot get a passport, driver’s license, a job, or leave the country without showing it. This does not apply to me as a foreigner, but I still followed the example of everyone else, and had my card “plasticated” at the portable business set up right outside the school
This time, Belisario Chimorazo won by an even greater margin, making him the first indigenous mayor to be reelected in190 years!
That’s all the news from Cañar. Now I have to get my cameras ready for Carnival, tomorrow!