Becoming Cuenca

The United States v. Ecuador

Jun 25, 2022

The title of this post sounds like a case being held before the Supreme Court of the United States. It was meant to be due to the rulings released this week by the very conservative and religious high court.

My goal is to address people who have been recently stating on social media things like, “The temptation to go to the airport, buy a one-way ticket, leave the country and live on my own has never been so real” or “Everyone with the ability to, should consider leaving the United States” and “Leaving the U.S. and living in another country is definitely the move.” These are actual quotes.

On June 24th, the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks is constitutional and overturned the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. Trigger laws in many red states immediately made abortions for any reason illegal.

Editorials with headlines like “When the Supreme Court Takes Away a Long-Held Constitutional Right” ran in many newspapers and on numerous media websites. According to a Gallup poll released at the beginning of this month, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves “pro-choice” has risen to 55 percent. It is the highest level in decades.

Abortion has been legal in Ecuador since 1938 in cases when a woman’s life is at risk or when a rape survivor has an intellectual disability. In February, Ecuadorian legislators approved regulations to allow women and girls access to abortions in cases of rape, following a constitutional court ruling that decriminalized such abortions. The new measure allows abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy for adult women in urban areas and up to 16 weeks for minors and adults in rural areas.

Please note that having a ‘consensual’ abortion is a crime in Ecuador, punishable by up to two years in prison for women who consent to receive abortions. It is from one to three years for health providers who perform an abortion.

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court ruled that states with strict limits on carrying guns in public violate the Second Amendment.

There was a huge outcry from the states with strict limits as their laws have kept gun crimes down versus gun-happy states. Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths.

That is why according to the CDC, Mississippi has the worst rate with 28.6 deaths per 100,000 people. Louisiana is second worst (26.3), followed by Wyoming (25.9), Missouri (23.9), Alabama (23.6), and Alaska (23.5).

Guns in Ecuador are tightly regulated and the right to bear arms is not guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Residents of Ecuador and Ecuadorian citizens can get a gun permit in Ecuador that allows having a gun ready to be used inside a private residence. The loaded gun must be stored in a specific area of the gun owner’s residence.

The gun can be moved from one place to another but only ‘unloaded’.  This is because the permit does not allow carrying a loaded gun outside a person’s residence.

There are people who can have a loaded gun outside of their homes. It is a higher-level gun permit. A person with this type of permit can carry their gun all the time and can also transport the gun loaded from one place to another.

If you think you can snag one of these permits, think again. Only entrepreneurs, ranchers, and shrimpers can attempt to get one. They must justify the usage of guns for their line of business by presenting documents that confirm the existence of their business. The applicants must show the risks in their line of business that they are subject to.

Basically, no one in Ecuador has guns. In my 29 months in Cuenca, I have not heard of a single crime in the city committed with the use of a gun.

In Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court ruled that a Maine program that excludes religious schools from a state tuition program is a violation of the free exercise of religion. The court said that if a state uses taxpayer money to pay for students attending nonreligious private schools, it must also use those same funds to pay for children at religious schools.

Basically, the decision invalidates provisions in 37 state constitutions that ban the direct or indirect use of taxpayer money in religious schools. Maine immediately reacted to that by changing the guidelines to exclude schools that discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.

It’s not surprising that in the nineteenth century, Ecuador’s education structure was under the control of the Catholic Church. That gradually changed. As late as 1970, over 70 percent of the primary and secondary schools were run by the provinces. Ten percent of the schools were under the guidance of municipalities, and about 20 percent were being run by private organizations (such as the church).

Ecuadorian law prohibits public schools from providing religious instruction. Private schools may offer religious instruction but must comply with the Ministry of Education standards. There are no legal restrictions specifying which religious groups may establish schools.

By the way, you may find this interesting: Wearing a school uniform is compulsory in Ecuador. Children cannot attend school without one. Before the beginning of the school year, parents buy uniforms in dedicated shops, which make uniforms for several schools.

It is thought that school uniforms keep students focused on their education, and not on their clothes. Proponents of school uniforms say it creates a level playing field among students, reducing peer pressure and bullying. They add that wearing school uniforms enhances school pride, unity, and community spirit.

The coronavirus has been a part of our lives for over two years. There has been a huge difference in the way the United States and Ecuador have handled it. That includes the Supreme Court of the United States decision with National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor. This week the high court said that the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers was not lawful.

Two big things stick out between the U.S. and Ecuador concerning the coronavirus. The first is the attitude about vaccines. On June 1, 2020, the United States had fully vaccinated about 43 percent of its citizens. Meanwhile, Ecuador was somewhere in the single digits. Some say it was as low as a paltry three percent.

Part of the blame goes to the former President of Ecuador. The rest can be attributed to the wealthy nations hogging the vaccines. At that time, the U.S. was holding millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine despite no pending approval from the FDA.

President Guillermo Lasso announced a plan: Plan de Vacunación 9/100. The new Ecuadorian government set an ambitious target of vaccinating 9 million people in just 100 days. There are just over 17 million people in the country.

It was so successful that headlines like this were made around the world: “Ecuador Becomes a Global Leader for Daily Vaccine Administration Per 100 people +” and “Despite the Hardship Brought on By the Covid-19 Pandemic, Ecuador is Racing to Become a Global Leader in Vaccination.”

According to the reliable and respected Our World in Data, the United States has 78 percent of its population fully vaccinated. Ecuador passed the U.S. a long time ago and now has at least 85 percent of its population fully vaccinated

The province Joanna and I live in (Azuay), reached 90 percent a couple of months ago. Most likely, it is higher than that now.

The second huge difference between the two countries may be the most controversial: face masks. In the midst of the pandemic, a small piece of cloth has incited a nationwide feud in the United States about public health, civil liberties, and personal freedom.

On May 14, 2020, a headline in Slate exclaimed, “Refusing to Wear a Mask Is a Uniquely American Pathology. The obsession with individualism and the misinterpretation of constitutional freedom collide into a germy mess.”

A right-wing publication’s headline at that same time said, “Masking Children Is Unnecessary—and Harmful.”

The mandatory use of face masks in the United States was short-lived. And during that short time, many Americans refused to wear them. I speak from personal experience.

In late-November of last year, my wife and I were in St. Augustine, Florida. During the Christmas season, the city becomes a festival of twinkling white lights with its “Nights of Lights.” It is recognized as one of the top displays of Christmas lights in the United States.

We decided to take a chance and look around downtown St. Augustine. There were thousands of lights for the four or five thousand people walking around the streets of St. Augustine. There were so many people in numerous places that it was shoulder-to-shoulder. Joanna and I were definitely less than six feet from people’s mouths.

I say that as we were the only two people in the throngs of people wearing face masks. This is the absolute truth! We got many cold, hard stares. Others avoided us like the plague making a big detour to avoid us.

Neither one of us understood why this was happening as Florida was having a surge in coronavirus cases at the time. Needless to say, we cut our tour short to be safe in our room at the bed and breakfast.

Ecuador took a completely different route. It was mandatory to wear face masks out in public from mid-March 2020 to early-May of this year. For Cuenca and Azuay province, we are still required to wear face masks. Guayaquil and Guayas province are doing the same thing. We are in the middle of 28th straight month of wearing face masks.

There wasn’t an outcry by the citizens of Ecuador. This country has a strong belief in family. It not only includes immediate family, but the families around them. Ecuadorians believe in doing what is best for everyone, not just themselves. It is wonderful to see such a selfless attitude.

While there were less than 0.05 percent of the people wearing face masks in St. Augustine, Florida, about 99 percent of the residents of Cuenca, Ecuador were wearing theirs. This is ‘not’ an exaggeration!

Basically, the only ones not wearing face masks out in public were American expats, claiming their individual freedoms trumped any mandates from the government. On one day, about 50 of them were protesting in the heart of El Centro at Parque Calderón, concerning the mandatory face masks. As far as I know, they only did it once as their protest fell upon deaf ears.

Though we have been wearing face masks out in public since mid-March 2020, I would guess that about 90 percent of the people are wearing theirs today. That is quite a bit higher than any American state’s rate during the height of the pandemic.

Because of being more vaccinated and still wearing face masks in two of the three largest cities in Ecuador, the New York Times says this country currently has 1.8 cases of Covid per 100,000 people. The United States had a rate that was nearly 18 times worse than Ecuador with 32 cases of Covid per 100,000 people.

Using this week’s decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States, I hope I have been able to show you some of the big differences between the countries and show you where they are similar.

This post is ‘not’ to take sides with any of the decisions (especially the overturning of Roe v. Wade), but to give you a better idea of what life would be like for you in Cuenca. It is up to you to decide which country would be best for you. And I desire for today’s post to help you decide if Cuenca would be a great place for you to live and enjoy life.

I hope this post makes you yearn for what I think is a better life at three degrees south. A lot more information on life in Cuenca can be found in my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life.”

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Una Nueva Vida – A New Life

- by Stephen Vargha

There are over 80 professional-quality photos shot by me to give you a clear ‘picture’ about life in this historic mountain city.