MR. CRISTHIAN HIDALGO (via translation): Thank you very much, and welcome to Ecuador. First of all, I was reading a bit about these two significant milestone announcements, in terms of prevention, particularly with regards to security, with the decentralized autonomous governments here in Ecuador. In the broader, macro-scheme, how will these agreements be executed? How will the process with decentralized autonomous governments be implemented in the country?
ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Well, we are just getting started, so every community will probably have its own approach to moving forward. But our goal is to make sure that this is not a top down initiative where officials tell communities what communities need, but rather where we create consultative processes, or we are a part of consultative processes, whereby communities can come forward and say, “actually in our neighborhood, we really need more lights, because the streets have become more and more violent. In our neighborhoods, we need more programs to keep young people away from gangs, or being away from drugs, in fact.”
In some communities, it is going to be just principally concerned about seeing more police on the streets. And that's something that municipalities and the national government will have to work on together. But where it isn’t a USAID function, but other parts of the U.S. government are working with the Ecuadorian police to do training on a response to and prevention of violent crime, that a lot of police in this country are not prepared for. They got into the police force, that was not the biggest issue that they had to think about. Because we have been thinking about doing traffic maintenance.
And so, you know, what we are trying to do as a government as a whole is look at the communities, use data to understand why crime is coming to this particular neighborhood and not that one – look at those factors, and then provide technical assistance so that the municipalities can come up with customized plans for those specific communities. And we're not going to hit every community in Ecuador. But in doing it, we're going to see what is working in specific communities, and then hopefully over time we'll be able to scale it, or better yet, what we learned in one community, other municipalities will learn from, let's say what Quito has done, or from what some other other city has done.
MR. HIDALGO (via translation): So it's not just about doing it in a specific location, but reaching communities everywhere. This means replicating the initiative, including topics like you mentioned in community lighting, but also perhaps community alarms, prevention systems for drug addiction, a closer connection, even the issue of anti-crime research and intelligence?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Exactly, I mean, crime is caused by a confluence of factors that are very distinct to particular communities. I will say, USAID has experience working in places like Cali and Medellin, Colombia, and these city names, I know from my own youth, were synonymous with murder, with kidnappings, and violent crimes, and now that is not what those communities are experiencing. But it took not just a whole of government efforts, with some outside support, it took a whole of society effort.
And so, I think what we have learned as USAID, a development agency in other countries, is that citizens and leaders alike need to understand there's no quick fix. And that it isn't enough to simply say, “hey, police stop the violent crime,” you have to also make sure that the police are non corrupt, you have to make sure that judges are safe when they prosecute violent crime, so that they, themselves, are not assassinated for doing the right thing and protecting communities.
So there are a lot of, let's say, vulnerabilities in the pipeline, and USAID is not going to be able to plug those vulnerabilities for the Ecuadorian people, but we can work with communities to identify those vulnerabilities, and to provide some support to fill in some of them, and to work with the incoming Noboa Administration as it thinks about how it works with municipalities to address those other holes.
MR. HIDALGO (via translation): The most important thing is to generate preventive measures that perhaps don't align with common perceptions [of security], which often focus on more police, more weapons, more operations. It's also necessary to work on prevention, which is the first step to counteract insecurity and violence. This is where USAID wants to help Ecuador?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Again, let me distinguish two aspects of what the U.S. government is doing. One part of my government, but I don't work in that part, is actually doing police training. Is actually working, the Drug Enforcement Agency, is working with Ecuadorian officials on real life operations to crack down on transnational crime. That law enforcement dimension of tackling crime is critical, for sure. But what USAID does, in addition to what I've described, is, we, in general, are trying to make sure that young people have jobs. We're trying to make sure that big companies in Ecuador, that have made a lot of money over the years, are also thinking about how they invest in marginalized communities, or how they contributed not only to economic growth, but to inclusive economic growth.
So if, for example, the Ecuadorian economy were humming along, and if young people who graduated from high school knew that if they did well in school, they worked hard, they could get jobs, that's going to address at least one factor in prevention. Which is, a lot of young people don't have any place to go, so once a gang leader comes calling, and says, “hey, you're just hanging around on the street, you know, come with me, you can make a quick buck.” I mean, most young people here don't want to be a part of a gang. They grow up and they know that violent crime is wrong. I mean, the people, the family structure here is a beautiful thing in terms of morals and values. But when you have nothing but desperation, that is when you become vulnerable to putting those norms and those values to the side and just thinking, “well, I want some dignity and this gives me a sense of empowerment.”
So, you know, even though we have a citizen security program that is working with municipalities in the ways that you described, the broader efforts that the new government makes to grow the economy, to deal with bureaucracy that interferes with private investment, the larger effort that we're making back in Washington to get a new piece of legislation passed to increase trade between our two countries and bring down tariffs. Those kinds of programs matter as well to tackling crime. They're not as direct, but they're about the enabling environment, the milieu that these gangs have been taking advantage of in recent years.
MR. HIDALGO (via translation): As for the EDGE program, what is the projection, where does this program lean towards, is it purely a development issue?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: So, EDGE is something that I created at USAID when I came in, to be able to ensure that if there was a place in the world where we thought we could get a company to do something that would advance the cause of economic development, particularly in marginalized places for women, for indigenous people. EDGE is a fund of $50 million that we can tap into to take small money out, to say that company, hey, we will coinvest, we shouldn't have to maybe because you're a company and you're making a lot more money than USAID might be able to spend any given year, but maybe there are parts of the country you're not making an investment, or even you're not making any profit in some part of the country. So we will come in and work with you, and we will do some of the initial, you might say, brush clearing – you know, the initial investment.
And in this case, we were using the EDGE Fund in Ecuador with La Favorita, because La Favorita, of course, has an interest in getting the best produce, bringing it to supermarket, having consumers come in and want to buy their green beans, or the fruits, or other vegetables at La Favorita. Well, right now, small farmers may be producing those vegetables, but those small farmers may know nothing about what's the exact standard is for the green beans, what does it have to look like, how should it be packaged, how many green beans should go in one packet that will make it easier for La Favorita to move it quickly to market so it's fresh. And right now, small-scale farmers in this country are by and large going through a middleman. And by the time a supermarket might get the produce from the small farmer, it might have taken days, and the produce doesn't have anywhere near the quality that it would have had if it was picked in the morning and made it to the supermarket by the afternoon.
So what we're doing is the training of the farmers, we're with La Favorita, building collection centers in the Amazon. Because it's a lot of work for a company to go to the Amazon, the farmers are much more spread out. It's not like around Quito where you can go and you can see a lot of farmers in a concentrated area. So by funding that, we bring down the cost for La Favorita, we bring them into the enterprise, or they bring us in, you could say, and what we would hope to have happen is that they then developed relationships whereby small-scale farmers who haven't yet been producing commodities for significant profit, are able to make a much bigger return on the hard work that they're doing around the clock. We know how hard farmers work. So they should be able to make a profit.
And if they have a profit, they'll be able to educate their children. I met a farmer, yesterday, named Johnny who had gone from making $20,000 a year to $80,000. He was able to employ four people instead of just being self-employed. He knew that the money was going to come on a specific date, it was going to come 50 days after he gave the produce. Instead of with the middlemen, he had no idea when was the money ever even going to come to him. So that kind of uncertainty is also a mental burden for people. So this kind of partnership allows USAID to bear some of the costs to bring the private sector in, and at some point, USAID recedes. And then we go and work with a different supermarket chain, or we work with a different kind of business, again, to lower what might be for them, to get rid of the factors that might be causing them to avoid investing in certain parts of the country or in certain communities.
MR. HIDALGO (Via translation): Based on a circular economy, which incentivizes companies to invest in Ecuador, which creates job opportunities. It's important because if I have a job opportunity, I benefit, and USAID then also helps with money to reinvest. Does this money from USAID need to be repaid, or not?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: The money that we're investing in the training, we do grants. And this is something that's very important to stress is that some of the big powerful countries around the world who invest in countries like Ecuador, they give loans. And sometimes there's a lot of interest on those loans. Indeed Ecuador, I think, is suffering from a lot of debt from some of those high interest loans. We just do grants. And we want Ecuador to move from aid to trade. We know no family, no individual wants aid.
So ideally, if we can show the private sector that there is profit to be made, that these farmers are really good at what they do, they just need a little bit of training on the front end, then we can go away. And because this initiative is not hitting every small farmer at the beginning, there will always be more farmers that we can reach. And probably there will always be more private sector, more businesses that haven't yet, let's say, worked in the Amazon. Or thought that that could be profitable for them.
Don't forget, La Favorita and this initiative is going to, by eliminating the middleman, that's going to be good for them profit wise as well. But sometimes you just have to, we call it, proof of concept. We have to show, by using these incentives to get them through the front door, then they see “oh, this works.” And we can feel good because we're actually helping communities that have been quite vulnerable. And so maybe then we go somewhere else and La Favorita takes it off to the races itself.
MR. HIDALGO (via translation): Administrator, with this question, I will conclude, and thank you very much for this time. Do you believe that Ecuador has the capacity to emerge from this economic and criminal challenge? You've mentioned something important – the value of Ecuadorian society, the moral aspect that inspires. But sometimes it seems fragmented because of the support still needed for anti-corruption, criminal, and development issues. Could you comment?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, let me just say that the, it's tempting to think that there's just a path to economic growth, jobs that doesn't involve strengthening democracy. But they really go together. In fact, security, individual security, economic opportunity, and the strengthening of the rule of law and democratic institutions, all three of those things go together. So it's not easy. There is a lot of depth, and that holds back any government from being able to make the kinds of investments that Ecuadorians really want to see in their schools, and their health systems, in energy infrastructure, in telecom. So, if there wasn't already so much debt that has now been carried forward, it would be much easier right now to borrow in order to fund some of those initiatives that I think the Ecuadorian people would really like.
So this is why it's so important to crack down on corruption. It is so important because so much money that could be either spent paying back debt to get out of debt, or, better yet, investing in social service delivery in the sectors that will equip Ecuadorians to contribute to their communities. The money should be going there, right, it shouldn't be going in somebody's pocket. So this is why USAID, and the United States government, we really try to think across the security sector, and of course, we want to contribute to expanding tourism even more than Ecuador already enjoys, cracking down on violent crime has to be a part of that. Because if it doesn't want these headlines overseas, about a violent crime, that's going to interfere with the tourism revenue.
But so too, environmental conservation, and the programs we do in that, and with the Development Finance Corporation as well, and protecting the Galapagos and conserving nature, that's really important for laying a foundation for tourism as well. So those investments are incredibly important. But if I come down to your question, I think it amounts to, is there enough in Ecuador, in terms of the vibrancy of the people, the dynamism, and work ethic of the people in this country to make it out of this difficult moment you find yourselves in, absolutely.
I think, you know, what is key is that the polarization that has gripped your country and has gripped my country, terribly, and has really interfered with progress, that somehow politicians put their own personal issues to one side and rally behind a visions that looks at those young people who are graduating, who've worked hard in school, who deserve economic opportunity, and puts their welfare first. And doing that requires cracking down on violent crime, cracking down on corruption, strengthening democratic institutions, protecting journalists who are doing the hard work of exposing violations of the public trust, and bringing the private sector more in to this national solidarity, where they too are part of trying to make more significant investments in communities that we've seen to little opportunity for too long.