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I have it from a reliable source, a close family member who has lived in Cotacachi regularly for over 50 years, that there is growing anti-gringo (this means not just North Americans, but anyone foreign) sentiment from the indigenous population in the area. It seems that the indigenous of the area are beginning to feel that their land is being unfairly exploited, to the advantage of the developers, leaving them out in the cold. They see that their land is being bought up at low, low prices, and then sold for an enormous profit to foreigners. As well, hearsay has it that the locals are resentful of the increasing presence of foreigners in the area and are fearful and/or resentful of the cultural changes a large foreign population might bring.
As a longtime observer of Ecuador, I don’t find this surprising. The indigenous groups of Ecuador are a rightly proud lot, and their political and economic power has been growing over the last decade. As well, with the populist triumphs of President Correa during the last four years, increasingly populist and nationalistic rhetoric has become more and more of the norm, adding fuel to this kind of sentiment. With the increasing prosperity that the tourism business and leather industry has brought to Cotacachi, and the draw for foreigners, it was inevitable that economic “progress” was going to sooner or later clash with the indigenous culture of the area. Finally, if the unrest in Cotacachi is true, it’s a perfect microcosm of the larger socio-political and economic situation of Ecuador that has been, is, and likely will be for the foreseeable future-one characterized by volatility, instability, and general unpredictability.
If you have followed my blog and read much about living in Ecuador, you are probably aware that Cotacachi has been growing in popularity among gringos as a retirement destination. Cuenca has been the other destination that has received lots of attention from bloggers, the retirement destination press, and tourism blogs. Cotacachi’s idyllic climate, small town feel, low cost of living, and close proximity to Quito and other major towns have made it a desirable spot to hang your hat. Also, land was relatively cheap there, until…
With the increasing purchase of land by both foreigners and Ecuadorians-who are/were building small housing developments for foreigners, the local population was seeing its former properties being exploited. There is a range of options for foreigners interested in buying a home, condo, or apartment in the area. You can purchase a home, depending on size, finishes, and location, for anywhere from $40,000 to $150,000 or more. Just about a decade ago, we purchased over 2 hectares of land for under $45,000. And here begins my anecdote.
We sold this property a few years ago to a close family member-the same one who’s been living in Cotacachi for decades. In turn, he went on and sold it just over a year ago, to a local who was going to break it up into several lots and build houses for foreigners on the land.
Most of the housing developments work like this: the buyer buys a parcel or several adjoining parcels of land, divides up the land, and begins to sell the houses on paper only. Construction begins when the buyer has made a 20% or greater down payment.
Allegedly, like other Ecuadorian investors in the area who were planning to or have already built housing development aimed at the foreign markets, the buyer of the land has ceased construction on the land due to a lack of buyers.
The indigenous population, it sounds, is tired of seeing their land exploited and the increasing population of foreigners coming in and diluting or affecting their cultural traditions. The developers, supposedly, have begun to leave due to a lack of buyers and are heading to Cuenca. I don’t have specific details on what the indigenous population may be doing to discourage foreigners from coming to the area; but it does sound like they are no longer selling their land at what were probably “firesale” prices to land developers, a sign of rejection of the developers and the foreigners they were attracting.
If any of my readers are aware of more details of the situation, I’d love to hear from you. I have this only on anecdotal evidence, though from a very good source, so if there’s anyone up in Cotacachi with direct knowledge of the situation, I look forward to your contributions.