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While Valentine’s Day has become one of if not the largest chocolate consumption holiday in North America, and a day of flowers and romance, it also merits some thought about those making your chocolate. Valentine’s Day was originally a day to celebrate martyrs more than 15 centuries ago. With continuing industry issues surrounding child labor and slavery in the industry, especially in West Africa, and the spotlight on these issues through films such as The Dark Side of Chocolate, unfortunately there is still a great deal of suffering associated with chocolate production.

Fortunately, here in Ecuador there is no evidence of child labor or slavery being used in cacao production, though there are many, many families who make a subsistence living, if only that, by growing and harvesting cacao beans, banans, rice, and other tropical crops. Small farmers with small plots of land, usually five hectares or less, make up the bulk of Ecuador’s cacao production. If you are buying single origin Ecuadorian chocolate, you can be comfortable in the knowledge that it was not produced under duress.

If you are buying an everyday chocolate or a blend, it was probably made with beans from the West African countries of the Ivory Coast or Ghana. You may be buying a product whose ingredients were produced in less than ideal conditions. While Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and other certifications may add a “feel-good” stamp for the consumer, the issues are much more complex than advertised. A good source to read more about Fair Trade labeling is on thechocolatelife.com here. In Ecuador we are now producing gourmet, fine chocolates for export, and they will be available in the US in the coming months. The chocolate is made from pure Nacional beans and we know it’s produced under excellent conditions, as we have visited the farm where the beans are growing. Stay tuned, and make sure your Valentine’s Chocolate is made under conditions you’d be happy working under!

From today’s LA Times…Ecuador’s war on the media.

I came across this article the other day, and I’m still not convinced Ecuador is really the “most radical place on Earth.”

The article starts out  “Just 10 years ago, Ecuador was more or less a basket case, a quintessential “banana republic” (it happens to be the world’s largest exporter of bananas), characterized by political instability, inequality, a poorly-performing economy, and the ever-looming impact of the US on its domestic politics.” Is that to say Ecuador now has little political instability,  a strong economy, and little or no impact by the US on domestic politics? While the administration has brought a semblance of political stability to the country, one must ask at what cost?

No organized opposition even comes close in numbers or political power to Correa’s organized base, but not just because he is so popular. Current polls recently gave him a 55% approval rating after five years in power, in contrast to the 70% rating asserted by the article. But he has taken draconian measures to squash the voice of opposing views, taking especially harsh measures against the press that have been internationally condemned-just look up the TeleAmazonas and El Universo cases. In five years here in Ecuador, the only real change I have witnessed in the economy is a continuing boom in construction; in all likelihood another bubble, some of it likely funded by dubious means (i.e. money laundering), and most of it not accessible price wise to the majority of Ecuador’s citizens. There is certainly no economic boom going on here, nor is there a flood of foreign investment as the country continues a number of policies that scare off foreign direct investment. And last year, Ecuador let the APTDEA lapse for a brief period, seriously damaging Ecuador’s ability to export to the US, and only recently restarted diplomatic relations with the US, posting a new Ambassador to the US just weeks ago. Finally, there is no mention of the increasing insecurity and violent crime, especially in Quito and Guayaquil.

While, as the article states, Ecuador has favorably renegotiated many of the oil contracts with multinational companies, the bonanza from these new revenues are being used to support the system of bonuses and welfare the government of Ecuador is providing to the masses, in turn serving Correa’s popularity, not for long term critical investment. While social spending has increased, quality of service in many areas has not. Healthcare and education still have a long way to go, and public services such as business start-up, registration and licensing are still extremely onerous, time-consuming, and a heavy burden to business operators. “Expanding direct public employment,” in what is an already bloated and overstaffed bureaucracy is difficult to imagine as a radical, forward step.

Anyone who was in Ecuador and was able to read the Referundum questions and understand them clearly deserves an applause. The questions were so lengthy, verbose, and convoluted that even well-educated Spanish speakers couldn’t clearly understand the issues being addressed.  Just because many of the policies that were put through by vote doesn’t mean they were truly approved with a clear understanding. It’s a sweeping generalization to assert that because the policies were approved, there is a clear and popular understanding and approval of them. Rather, I would assert that the questions were written to obfuscate from the public the proposed changes.

There is little to be said for radical in Ecuador, except for the mistakenly inward looking policies being practiced. Many of these policies, such as import-substitution and high tariffs on imported goods only drive up the cost and drive down the quality of good for local residents. When Ecuador joins the rest of the world by offering a stable judicial framework for foreign investment, a freer trade regime, and less onerous business regulations, only then will we be able to say Ecuador is Radical!

I recently came upon a fellow expat’s blog from Cuenca. His analysis of cost of living is an astute one and you can read it here. As they say, it’s not the high cost of living, it’s the cost of living high. You can also live quite frugally in Quito, even though Quito and Guayaquil are probably the most expensive parts of the country to live in. Nonetheless, if you live outside of Quito, a family of four can do quite well here on under $2,000 monthly.

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Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>

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