Saturday, January 31, 2009

Some general musings

One broad brush reaction to Ecuador – vs. Mexico where I have spent many weeks – is: better music, worse food. I am very taken by the Andean music (charangos, pan pipes, straight flutes); great rhythms and melodies, vs. mariachi which I could do without. But the cuisine is really survival food. I watched at the soccer tournament (photos later) the other day a fellow spectator buy a plate: 3 small boiled potatoes, an ear of corn, and a knuckle of pork. Straight up. In Mexico, there would certainly have been at least dripping red-brown (or green), spiced, yummy sauce. The post-colonial thing is very strong here; rather than drawing from a centuries-old culinary tradition, in many ways the vibe is a centuries-old tradition of enslavement by the Spanish and having anything to fill your belly is a good day. Interesting.

At this low standard of living, so much is more visible for pondering. Energy consumption for one. On our street corner, there are two vendors selling hot food; one is still using wood in the brazier, fanning away with a scrap of cardboard as the food grills, the other using gas. Pedicabs ply the streets carrying natural gas canisters, papayas, people. I think if we’re going to make progress on climate change (my friend Ben says that what we’re looking at is a 90% reduction in energy consumption in the US), we’re all going to have to start living a lot more like Ecuadorians.

Amazingly to me, Ecuador is a member of OPEC (!!) and has a lot of oil and a lot of infrastructure; there is, for example, a trans-Andes pipeline running from the jungle, up and over, and down to the coast. Gasoline is very cheap, diesel is $1 a gallon, gas about $1.50. But electricity is very expensive; there is a discouragement tax on incandescent lightbulbs which makes them about half the cost of fluorescents, vs. like, what, 5x in the US. My sense is that there is much less oil per capita than, say, Saudi Arabia where everyone lives high on government profit-sharing, but oil is a huge revenue source for the government (and a prime destructor of the biodiversity treasure of the Amazon; check out “Amazon Stranger” or “Indians, Oil and Politics” if you’d like to learn more.) The recent plunge in crude prices is going to have a huge impact on government programs (like education).

Thanks for reading and the comments. P

2 comments:

Chuck W said...

Paul--

I recall being told that something like 40% or so of the oil that is loaded into the oleoducto on the Amazon side is missing once it reaches the Pacific. "Missing?" I asked in alarm, with visions of the stuff leaking out all over the paramo. No, not leaking, came the reply, just stolen via altered paperwork and the proverbial thumb on the scale.

With oil providing the majority of the government's revenues, and with darn near half of it being lightfingered along the way, you can just about assign a value to the corruption.

I've often thought of this in the context of Argentina, too, which came out of WW2 as the "other" economic power in the Americas. Then Peron came in and Argentina was never heard from again. Easy to forget that countries can both develop and undevelop, though perhaps not so easy to forget after 8 years of crony government in the USA.

The VanCott's said...

Paul,

From our hyper consumer-based perspective its hard to understand a culture of survival. Potatoes and pig knuckles straight up, sounds rough. Did you hear there was a shortage of wings here and that restaurants were hoarding them for weeks before todays super bowl to satisfy the masses of fans? Yea...Go Cardinals!

-D

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