El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Regrets Burn Away in Ecuador

By Dan Prescher
My wife, Suzan, and I rarely know too far in advance where we'll be for the holidays. We haven't lived in the U.S. for a dozen years now, but around about September or October we start making the decisions about what to do for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year...whose family back in the States we'll spend which holidays with...and which holidays, if any, we'll spend by ourselves at home, wherever home happens to be at the time.
For the past few years, home has been Ecuador, and we've been here several times for New Year's Eve. It's actually called Old Year, or Año Viejo, here. Between Christmas and December 31st, most every local family makes a dummy out of old clothes and sits it outside their home or business. This effigy represents the old year and all the things about it that you'd like to just set on fire and be done with...lousy politicians, unfaithful lovers, annoying celebrities, all are fair game. You can even buy cheap papier mache masks in local mercados of some of the worst politicians, sports figures, terrorists, and TV stars to give a face to your dummy.
But the mask is actually optional. What really goes in the dummy are your regrets, your mistakes, the bad habits you couldn't kick, the crummy things you did to someone else or the crummy things they did to you that you can't let go of. The cigarettes you wish you hadn't smoked, the weight you didn't lose, the rum you couldn't keep from drinking, the willpower you lacked, the determination you didn't show. If there isn't something you can actually put inside the dummy to represent those things, like a cigarette or a chocolate bar or a booze bottle, you write down on a piece of paper what you want to get rid of from the old year and tuck it inside the dummy's shirt.
Then at midnight on December 31st, all the effigies are put to the torch. They burn in intersections and on street corners and on curbs and sidewalks all over the country.
It's a wonderful tradition and we love being part of it. It only adds to the relevance and poignancy of the ceremony that by midnight most of the adults involved are drinking and smoking their brains out. And while they party and dance around the burning effigies, they all sincerely believe that this is it...tomorrow is a new day and a new year.
Last chance to indulge in those old habits and regrets. The next time the sun comes up, it's all going to be different. We'll be better. We'll be happier. We'll be stronger. We'll be freer.
And of course, for most of us the new year will be exactly like the old year, which is why this ceremony sticks around and gets repeated every year. If it worked as advertised, you'd only have to do it once.
But there are some people for whom the new year really will be very, very different than the old year, no matter what. Like you, perhaps, these are the people who, after lots of study and research and soul searching and preparation, make the move they've always wanted to make...to another country, another culture, and another way of life. They become expats.
They've performed the Año Viejo ritual for real in their own lives, even if they don't realize it at the time. They've chucked it all and taken a seat on the plane. And wherever they end up after that flight, the next time the sun comes up things really will be different for them.
We've seen those folks dancing around their own Año Viejo effigies throughout Latin America, the ones who've burned their fears and regrets and turned to face a new and promising future. To really do something like that...to not just burn a dummy on a street corner but to truly let go of the old and turn to face the new...is not for everybody. It takes a tolerance for change, a sense of adventure, an appetite for novelty and challenge. It takes some guts.
But it's not hard to tell the ones who manage to make that move successfully. In their new homes abroad, when the clock strikes midnight and the match is struck, they watch the Año Viejo effigies burn with a particular satisfaction, a knowing smile, and a special appreciation for what the fire and the smoke represent.
They get it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Correa slams report on CIA role in Ecuador strike

Ecuador President Rafael Correa poses during an interview in an hotel on November 7, 2013 in Paris. (AFP Photo/Eric Feferberg)
Quito (AFP) - Ecuador's President Rafael Correa warned Monday that reports US intelligence played a role in a 2008 Colombian attack on FARC rebels in his country could threaten regional peace efforts.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that a secret Central Intelligence Agency program had helped Colombia kill at least two dozen leftist guerrilla leaders.

And, according to the report, it was thanks to US intelligence that the FARC number two, Raul Reyes, was found and killed in a cross-border attack on Ecuador in 2008 that left 24 dead.

Ecuador temporarily broke diplomatic relations with its Andean neighbor following the incident.
On his Twitter account, Correa wondered if these "very serious" revelations and other recent disagreements between his government and Washington were simply coincidence.

He speculated that the report was an attempt to affect Ecuador's relations with the United States and Colombia and "above all, the peace process" under way between Colombia and the FARC.
"At this point, I don't believe in 'coincidences.' Colombia and the international extreme right are capable of anything!" he wrote.

According to the Post, a secret CIA program in Colombia was initially authorized by president George W. Bush around 2000 and has been continued under his successor Barack Obama.

The covert operation provided intelligence to help locate the FARC leaders and supplied a special GPS guidance kit that helped Colombia convert standard bombs into precise smart munitions.

The 2008 incident triggered a diplomatic crisis between Bogota and Quito, with Ecuador suspecting the attack was orchestrated with the help of the United States, despite denial from Colombian authorities.
The governments fully restored relations in 2011.

The forgotten beach party town in Ecuador

Even if you don't like to party, party towns are good places to base yourself as you explore the nearby areas of the Ecuador coast.

There's more places to eat.

A larger variety of places to stay at a much lower average cost.

It's easier to meet more people.

And you have access to services that you wouldn't have in more remote locations, like laundry, internet, organized activities, etc.  
Everyday I ask other foreigners where they plan to travel on the coast of Ecuador.  
And they always tell me the same damn thing, "Salinas, Montanita, Manta, Canoa". 
Yet theres one popular party town on the coast that is completely overlooked by foreigners.


For me, Atacames arguably has the nicest beach of all the locations mentioned above.

It certainly has one of the widest beaches of the country, and one of the few white sand beaches lined with coconut palms in Ecuador.

Beaches with good surf are nearby.

And beaches that are coves with flat water great for swimming are just a short Tuk Tuk ride away (in neighboring Sua).  
Plus, when the other beaches mentioned above are likely overcast, you can usually count on Atacames to have sun.  
Nightlife.  Check, Ecuadorians know how to party, trust me on that one.

Accommodations.  Cheap and plentiful with budget places starting around $10 per person and the nicer places around $20 per person.

Food.  You bet.  Each region of the Ecuadorian coast has their own unique blend of seafood gastronomy.  But the north coast has the best cuisine out there!  Try the seafood in coconut curry (encocados) or the seafood in nut based curry (cazuela) and you won't be dissappointed!  
Foreigners.  Almost none to date yet the area has been popular with Ecuadorian tourists for weekend getaways (particularly from Quito) for decades.  
Airport/Hospitals.  Yes and yes.  Atacames is one of the few beaches within just 20 minutes or so from an airport reachable by commercial flights (Esmeraldas).  Plus, being just 15 minutes or so from Esmeraldas there are plentiful private health clinics and free public hospitals available.

Safety.  This has been the knock on Atacames as most folks think its too close to Colombia for comfort, but actually its still several hours from the border (like a place called Quito), and with the added police force I believe safety has improved greatly over recent years.

The locals.  Different from the rest of the Ecuador coast, the locals are mulatos by ancestry.  And by far the friendliest and best looking people on the Ecuador coast.

Real Estate.  Cheap!  The best deal I see this week in the area is a finished and FURNISHED 20 room, 20 bathroom hotel one block from the beach right in the center of town built just 8 years ago complete with reception, oceanview terrace, and cistern asking $170,000 negotiable.

But the owner sounded like he'd go down even lower, I'd try for around $150,000. Its possible, and it would be a steal.  The owners direct contact is 0986278022 email caugust_49 AT hotmail.com .  I have no affiliation with the property, just saw it mentioned this week.  If you end up buying it due to this tip you'll have to buy me a beer sometime.  
Im a hotelier myself, and I can tell you, to furnish a 20 room place (well) you're looking at easily $45,000.  And depending on the state of the building (which looks good in the photos) at this price it could pay for itself in 2 years if you market it right.  if youd like to hire me to help with that let me know.

Safe to say I see major potential in the area.  

Domenick Buonamici
Quito Airport Suites

The Spirit of Christmas in Ecuador

By Edd Staton
It is Christmas morning, and my wife Cynthia and I are celebrating the joyous occasion with our daughter's family in New Jersey. Tomorrow we fly to North Carolina to do it all over again in the home of our son.
When we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador three and a half years ago we had no grandchildren. In the space of 19 short months we experienced our own private "baby boom" and today we have three (and counting?). Christmas is really all about the kids, isn't it, so we now come back to the States to be with our loved ones each holiday season.
Early on we spent a memorable Christmas at home in Cuenca I'd like to share with you. Thanksgiving is obviously not a biggie there (although expats attend various gatherings all over town), but Christmas is celebrated in high style. Malls, markets, and public spaces are colorfully decorated, although the theme is generally more religious than the commercial extravaganza the holiday has become in the States.
Nowhere is this more evident than the annual Christmas Eve parade, which organizers claim is the largest in Latin America. Clocking in at over eight hours it must certainly be the longest! A seemingly endless procession of floats from neighborhoods in and around Cuenca carry children dressed to depict the nativity scene.
There are also cars and horses decorated with flowers, produce, beer cans and liquor bottles, even plucked chickens with money in their beaks...bands, dancers, and street performers—plus assorted characters like Santa, Bart Simpson, and SpongeBob wandering by.
We watched this somewhat bizarre extravaganza from the balcony of a friend's home located directly on the parade route á la Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Memorable, yes, but we couldn't hang in there from start to finish.
On Christmas Day, Cuencano friends kindly invited us to spend the day with their family. We were amazed that they had hired a priest to deliver Mass for the entire neighborhood in the front yard of their home. Afterwards we handed out wrapped presents to all the children and drank an unfamiliar beverage with one familiar ingredient—alcohol.
Cynthia then joined the women in the kitchen to help prepare the big meal while I hung out with the guys for an afternoon session of chatting and drinking. As best I can remember there must have been a siesta in there somewhere before the meal was served!
Returning home after enjoying the day's camaraderie and feast, we reflected on the notion that regardless of your religious persuasion or physical location, the spirit of the holiday season is all about love, giving, and thankfulness.
My wife and I are thrilled to be with our immediate family during these holidays, and doubly blessed to soon return to a loving extended family of close friends in Cuenca. We are truly grateful to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.
I close this message with a Christmas toast to you: May your heart be filled with joy today, and may happiness await you in the New Year ahead. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Property holding costs in Ecuador: Not what you'd expect

I get it all the time...

"Well nowadays I can also buy a $40,000 property in Waco, Texas, what'the big deal about Ecuador?"

OK, well, one thing is the holding costs.

Lets take a look at my 4 bedroom, 3 bath house on the coast near Montanita.  I currently rent it out.

I pay...

$0 for insurance (with so much concrete construction home insurance is not common).
$0 for condo or association fees (not in gated community)
$102 a year in property taxes
$7 electric bill last month (with one single person living on the property full time.)
$4 water bill last month
$2.50 gas (bought one tank of gas, this is also subsidized by the government)

Now lets compare this to a 2 bedroom condo in my home state of Montana, USA currently valued around $180,000...
$1200 annual property taxes 
$583 every 3 months association fees.  
electricity $80 a month (varies)
water $125 every 3 months 
$180 annual insurance 
gas $250 (varies)

How about a 2 bedroom house in Montana valued around $350-400k...

$3400 annual property taxes 
$1200 annual homeowners insurance
$0 association fees (not in gated community)
electricity/gas $300 a month in winter 
$25/month garbage collection

Now, lets throw in the extra cost of my Ecuador 'property management' because I do not live nearby (I live in Quito) and I rent it out short term as a vacation rental.
$20 a month to caretaker who visits property twice a week and lets me know if there are any problems, waters grass once a week and takes out the garbage.
$5 each time the caretaker has to go and turn in key or recover key from an entering or exiting guest.
$10 for each cleaning between guests.

The caretaker also is in charge for paying the energy bills, and does NOT live on the property.  All guests prepay online, I do all the marketing myself.  

Holding costs, a big reason to consider Ecuador.

Saludos until next time,

Domenick Buonamici
Quito Airport Suites

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cacoa farms in Ecuador: the skinny

Note from Blog: The article mentions prices on puchasing already existing Cacao farms....forget it. You should purchase raw cow pasture property which is less expensive and ready to plant. Then....plant the cacao yourself and wait 2 years.

Forget about exporting handicrafts a minute.

Ecuador has some VERY rich people, but they export different things, for instance, the product I’m going to mention today is one of Ecuador’s chief exports… cacao (or cocoa, the seed chocolate is made from).

As the breeze off the plantation whisked past my forehead I sat in a hammock across from a friend of mine who is the plantation owner of a 100 hectare cacao producing farm near the border town of Huaquillas in the South of Ecuador.

I was picking his brain.  The business really interests me… here’s what I learned:

Cacao needs a tropical climate and a lot of moisture in order to grow effectively.

Rarely will you find folks with farms in full production willing to sell, because it’s a cash machine.  But sometimes we can get lucky.

Cacao requires two full years after planting the seeds to begin to deliver fruit, but once it begins to deliver fruit, it will continue to for a long time as long as you take care of the trees.

When looking at listings for already-producing cacao farms for sale you’ll notice a big difference in prices… right now in the south of Ecuador cacao farms in full production are costing around $20,000 per hectare if they have CCN51 type cacao, and around $9,000 per hectare if they have the local, national type cacao.

Why the difference?  The purple colored CCN51 produces a little over twice the fruit as the green colored national type cacao, and both fetch the same prices at market.  So if you think you found a bargain, be sure to ask which type cacao is being produced!

For every 3 hectares of cacao farm in full production you’ll need one employee, to whom you’ll have to pay about $300 a month or $3,600 a year.  Those same 3 hectares in full production will produce around $15,000 a year in sales, which is a low-ball figure, according to the plantation owner, who was my friend and wasn’t trying to sell me anything.

He said after water, fertilizer and irrigation costs as well as subtracting the above cost for the employee, each 3 hectares will leave around $9,000 in annual profit.

Once in production, you will harvest different sections every 15 days, giving you a constant stream of income, for the rest of your foreseeable life!  People love Chocolate.  I believe my mom’s actually addicted.

One big benefit to working with Cacao instead of Banana is that if you don’t sell the Cacao for whatever reason, you can store it, dry it, and it becomes even more desirable to the exporters, whereas banana, if you don’t sell it immediately, you lose the whole crop.

It’s actually a much more hands off business than most assume.  Most plantation owners have a “Jefe” or farm manager who runs the farm for them, the owner I spoke to rarely visits his farm (maybe once every week or 2).

And as for selling your production, it’s easy, most just sell it directly to an intermediary in their town, who then turns around and sells it to an exporter in one of the ports in Ecuador (like Guayaquil), who then sell it to an importer in the destination country, who then sell it to a distributor who then sells it to the final production plants.

Why don’t the producers try to skip the supply chain and export themselves for higher profits?


The importers require a certain, large amount of the product delivered to them regularly, and most farmers can’t guarantee such a large amount with frequency… so that’s why they use an exporter who gathers the product from various farmers and intermediaries to ensure they always have product on a steady basis for the importers.

You can find cacao farms along the coast and lowland areas of Ecuador, as well as in the eastern Amazon third of the country.  To make good money, consider farms only of at least 20 producing hectares or more.


Saludos until next time,

Domenick Buonamici
Quito Airport Suites


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ecuador lashes out at Internet critics

Note from Blog: We are not "Socialists" here by any stretch of the imagination. But one has to respect the "Bravo" of President Correa. First he was the only President to tell Wall Street to "hit the road" with its unfair bank loans when he defaulted four years ago....then proceeded to buy them back at a discount.  Now...he is the only leader telling the internet "powers at be" who will control the internet.  Like...dislike...agree or dissagre...one has to admire his audactiy.


Ecuador, having bargained away virtually all its oil production to China in return for low-interest loans to finance President Rafael Correa’s spendthrift populism, is in dire need of a new export. And the president seems to have found one: tyrannical censorship of his critics.

Correa’s increasingly novel inventions for suppressing free speech in his own country are doubtless the subject of much envious chatter whenever Iran, North Korea and the rest of the fellows get together for meetings of Despots R Us. His latest wrinkle: a proposed law that would criminalize wisecracks on Facebook, enforced by placing video cameras in every cybercafe in Ecuador.

But now Correa has gone international. He’s using phony copyright claims to force American companies like YouTube and Google to remove videos and documents that criticize his government.

Last month, more than 140 videos posted by Chevron abruptly vanished from YouTube, replaced by notices that said they were yanked due to copyright-infringement claims by a Spanish video-distribution company called Filmin.

Filmin didn’t specify what copyrights it owns on the videos for the excellent reason that it doesn’t have any. Nearly all of them were outtakes from a film called Crude, a documentary about an Ecuadorian lawsuit against Chevron over oil-drilling pollution.

Chevron’s attorneys won the legal right to view and disseminate the outtakes, which show various sleazy acts of behind-the-scenes collaboration between the plaintiffs, the Ecuadorian government and the supposedly neutral judicial authorities hearing the case.

But YouTube, like many Internet companies, doesn’t want to get dragged into a potentially expensive and time-consuming lawsuit over somebody else’s copyrights. So it simply took down Chevron’s videos without investigating Filmin’s claim.

What was Filmin’s motive? Adam Steinbaugh, a law-school graduate who writes an excellent blog about law and technology, discovered that Filmin is linked with another Spanish company called Ares Rights that frequently acts as a hired gun for Ecuador, filing numerous copyright complaints, ranging from dubious to absurd, against critics of Correa’s government.

Using a U.S. law known as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Ares has claimed it owns everything from a mock wanted poster for the father of a Correa cabinet member accused of raping a child to a left-wing documentary criticizing the government for granting mining concessions to foreign companies.

(We pause here for a government-mandated warning that too much irony may be bad for your blood. Irony No. 1: Among the many documents Ecuador has tried to get kicked off the Internet is a series of reports from the country’s intelligence agency about its spying on, yes, the Internet. Which leads us to Irony No. 2: Wikileaker-in-Chief Julian Assange is holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, seeking political asylum for leaking U.S. government documents on, yes, the Internet.)

Flaky Third World regimes squashing their domestic opposition is not exactly news, of course. And a lot of people may find it difficult to get worked up about Correa pushing around a gazillionaire multinational corporation like Chevron, which is certainly big enough to defend itself.

But that misses the point. If Correa is willing to mess with a $200 billion corporation on the Internet, then he’s certainly not going to hesitate to mess with you.

Rosie Gray, a reporter for Buzzfeed.com, learned that when she published a story based on leaked government documents that revealed Correa is trying to buy surveillance drones and telecommunications devices that would allow his spies to monkey with people’s cell phones.

Ecuador promptly filed a copyright- infringement notice that got the documents supporting her story removed from the Internet. Gray posted them on a different site, and Ecuador got them yanked again.

“It was a pretty ham-fisted attempt to intimidate us and put the genie back in the bottle,” Gray told me this week. Only on her third try did she find a site, DocumentCloud.com, with the spine to stand up to Correa.
There’s another reason to care about this: If Correa gets away with using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to jerk around his enemies, it won’t be long until others follow suit.

“And it won’t always be a foreign state,” says blogger Steinbaugh. “This abuse is growing. Any person or corporation can misuse this law to punish someone who criticizes them. It’s a real weakness in the law, which offers no incentive for Internet companies to question copyright-infringement claims, no matter how doubtful they are.” Unlike bananas and oil, this is an Ecuadorian export we can do without.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ecuador contributes more to help balance the USA budget deficit than the US Congres.

United States cancels aid programs to Ecuador -officials


By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO (Reuters) - The United States has canceled aid to Ecuador worth $32 million over the coming years after long-running disputes with the government of socialist President Rafael Correa, according to U.S. officials.

Correa, a U.S.-trained economist, has often been at odds with Washington since winning power in 2007. He accuses the U.S. government of trying to undermine him and this year Ecuador renounced U.S. trade benefits dating from the early 1990s.

According to a U.S. State Department spokesperson, Ecuador recently informed the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) it could not undertake new activities or extend existing ones without an accord governing bilateral assistance. This led to the U.S. decision to cancel the aid.

"Our planned $32 million in assistance programs for the coming years would have allowed us to partner with Ecuadoreans to achieve their own development goals in critical areas," said a letter dated December 12 from USAID to Ecuador seen by Reuters.

Ecuadorean government officials had no immediate comment.

The USAID letter said that in 60 years of working together, more than $800 million in development aid had helped hundreds of thousands of Ecuadoreans.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Quito said two years of negotiations failed to reach a new agreement.

"USAID had begun incurring significant costs for four recently launched projects (focused on environmental protection and civil society strengthening) which have been unable to proceed," the embassy spokesperson said.

"Their cancellation was the only fiscally prudent option."

Correa, a vocal member of a bloc of left-wing Latin American leaders, won re-election in a landslide early this year after generous state spending on infrastructure and health services.

He has irked investors with his anti-capitalist rhetoric, and this year he passed a controversial law creating a state media watchdog that critics denounced as a blow to free speech. Correa says it enshrines principles of balance.

In 2011, Ecuador expelled the U.S. ambassador to Quito after American diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks alleged that Correa's government had turned a blind eye to police corruption.

Last year, he threatened to expel USAID from the country, alleging that it was funding local groups that he said sought to undermine the region's "progressive" governments.

In May, Bolivia's socialist President Evo Morales expelled USAID in protest after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry referred to Latin America as Washington's "backyard."

Ties between Washington and Ecuador were strained again this year after Correa said he would consider offering asylum to the fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Last year, Correa granted asylum to WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, saying they were both victims of persecution. Assange is holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London.

(Additional reporting by Ezra Fieser in Santo Domingo and David Adams in Miami; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Kieran Murray and Christopher Wilson)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A lesson in art......

Note from Blog:  In our view....art no longer exists......

Imagine a Sudden Disturbance of Eyes, Nerves, or Mind

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Imagine a Sudden Disturbance of Eyes, Nerves, or Mind
Harmonious order. True talent. Dignified culture. Civilization.
Highly formative for the human personality, it shows in its imponderables a profoundly Christian character.
Las Meninas painted by Diego Velázquez in the year 1656.
It is kept in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain.

The famous painting by Velázquez, Las Meninas [The Maids of Honor], is rightly considered one of the great works of pictorial art.

The scene portrays the childish and candid grace of the Infanta, the most dignified and respectful tenderness of the young noble ladies who serve her, and on the left, the proud and noble bearing of a Knight of Santiago (who is actually the painter Velázquez himself). Taken as a whole, the scene is expressive of an ambience that is recollected, elevated, and profoundly civilized. An attentive and prolonged consideration of this masterpiece goes beyond pleasing one’s artistic sensibility; it is highly formative for the human personality.

If a person looking at this were to suffer a sudden disturbance affecting his eyes, nerves, or mind, one would expect the harmonies of the painting by Velázquez to disintegrate before him. At the extreme point of this disturbance, it could possibly reach the horrifying state expressed in the other painting on this page.

The contrary could never happen. If someone were simply to study the second painting, and begin to suffer problems with his sight, nerves, or mind, he would never reach the point of seeing Las Meninas of Velázquez.
Disorder. Extravagance, Imbalance. Intemperance. Between August and December 1957, Pablo Picasso painted 58 interpretations of Las Meninas.

This is so evident, it does not require demonstration. This is because the first painting is not a product of disorder, but rather of order, talent, culture, and civilization. It shows in its imponderables a profoundly Christian character. The second is the fruit of disorder, extravagance, imbalance, and intemperance. It can only proceed from a soul full of disorderly passions or from an illness.

The second painting shows Picasso’s copy of the immortal work of Velázquez.

No comment.

Originally published in Catolicismo, No.131, November, 1961.

Trappist Monks Make the World’s Best Beer

Note from Blog: In a world of the increasing "New World Order" of industrialization and mass consumerism...it is refreshing to see remnants of  a former society where money is not everything.

Third World Politics Produce Third World Results....California

How China Just Grabbed 90% of Ecuador’s Oil

y | published December 12th, 2013
I was a guest on Chinese national television last night. The discussion was via a live satellite link that had me sitting in a Pittsburgh studio with the feed traveling through their affiliate in Washington. 

I’ve done this before. But this time the discussion was all about a subject I have been personally involved in.
It had to do with the big Chinese move into Ecuador – one that has given Beijing the upper hand over who really controls of the country’s oil.

As long-time readers will recall, I have been advising on a refinery project in Ecuador for some time now. Slated for outside Manta on the country’s west coast, it’s known as The Pacifico Project, or locally as the Refineria

Project costs in this massive endeavor have swelled to about $13 billion. Nonetheless, the government still says the 300,000 barrel per day complex will begin operations in 2017. 

The real story, however, lies in the combination of interests surrounding the facility.
As you’ll learn, this is just the latest example of the bold move by China into South American energy …

China’s Bold Move into Ecuador

When it comes to Ecuador these days, I can tell you Chinese fingerprints are everywhere you look. 
In fact, The Pacifico Project will be built by Chinese Sinopec – Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemicals (NYSE: SHI) – while processing about 16% of its capacity in heavy oil from Venezuela. As of yesterday, it is also being primarily funded by Beijing and will have the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) as a partner.

This move into Ecuador and other South American venues, mirrors similar moves in other parts of the world and is driven by Chinese finance. In Ecuador, this has produced a very significant result.

Of course, whenever I discuss such a matter of state interest with a national television network, it is often like walking on eggshells. But I still made the point clearly last night.

With this deal, China now controls Ecuadorian crude oil production.

Put another way, Beijing can now dictate where the oil exports are going from a member of OPEC. To be sure, Ecuador is the smallest producer in the cartel, about 500,000 barrels a day.
Even so, the symbolism is dramatic.

China’s Hidden Upper Hand

This was accomplished because of the continuing financial difficulties faced by President Rafael Correa’s administration. The nation defaulted on its foreign bonds a few years ago, seriously limiting access to international capital. That allowed China to move in, offering funds at heavy rates with Ecuador having few genuine alternative sources.

Beijing has loaned billions to the government budget, the national oil company PetroEcuador, bankrolled the primary hydroelectric power project in the country, and is now about to finance one of the largest refineries in South America. Ecuador pays back these loans from the proceeds of its oil exports.

And the Chinese are rather creative in how that works out.

Only a rather small amount of the exports actually go directly to China. In fact, PetroEcuador still depends on selling most of its oil closer to home with U.S. and other North American companies, either receiving the shipments or having control over the contracts.

Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence, shipping manifests, and intelligence from sector sources point toward a Chinese control over up to 90% of the oil leaving Ecuador.

This is hardly the first time China has used loans to gain leverage over South American oil.
Chinese state banks have loaned more than $10 billion to Brazil and over $40 billion to Venezuela. Hydrocarbons are the essential collateral in each case.

These parallel similar steps elsewhere – at least $13 billion to Angola, upwards to $20 billion in Sudan, and a whopping $55 billion in Russia.

Add to this acquisitions in the region, such as the recent purchase of Brazilian state Petrobas (NYSE: PBR) assets in Peru and a cross-border pipeline project, and China’s goal to develop an integrated presence in South America is rapidly reaching fruition.

Yet to accomplish this Chinese companies need larger positions as operators upstream. SHI is already doing so in Ecuador, despite its primary experience being in refining. 

A Mammoth Battle is Shaping Up

But this big move is fraught with very emotional political overtones. It is also the primary reason Chinese TV wanted me on last night. 

You see, Correa is in a real political dogfight surrounding the next major oil development wanted by Quito. It has become a major controversy with an opposition coalition moving to have a national referendum to stop the project.

The Ecuadorian government plans to develop the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini (ITT) oil block, pitting the state against environmentalists, indigenous populations and a wide swath of the scientific community.
This block is inside the Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO global biosphere area, the nation’s largest nature reserve, and the home of two indigenous tribes wanting nothing to do with the outside world.

The government has responded by closing the offices of a highly visible environmental group, claiming they have been fomenting violence. Meanwhile, the prospect of some 900 million barrels of crude continues to generate considerable interest.

Chinese companies are now positioning themselves to take a major chunk, despite the fact the project “officially” being run by state company, PetroAmazonias. On the other hand, any approach will need to be very carefully orchestrated, given the environmental fallout from another matter about to come back into the news.

The more than two decade-old legal fight between Chevron (NYSE: CVX) and the Ecuadorian government over massive pollution in the rain forest region of Oriente is heating up again. It was one of the most horrendous ecological disasters I’ve ever seen.

Initially, the development upstream there was by Texaco (later absorbed by Chevron) with claims being waged between the American company and PetroEcuador over who was really responsible for cleanup.
In its wake, a Chevron counter suit filed in a New York federal court should be ruled upon shortly. The liability here is now approaching $10 billion with a major judgment against the company already handed down in Ecuador.

The ITT development is now bringing back the same ecological concerns and adding fuel to an already tense situation. Foreign companies, certainly the Chinese, are going to need to walk a tightrope.
In the past, Correa has successfully championed environmental attacks against Western interests as a political tool, using them to condemn Chevron while pairing with the Chinese.

But his strong support for the ITT project may come back to dent his political image.
This is quickly escalating into a major test of how sophisticated the Chinese have become in the geopolitics of oil.

But I can tell you this will take more than just a large checkbook to pull off.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ecuador Luxury‏

Note from this Blog: This place is only 30 minutes from our Farm near Pacto!!!!! But trust me.....we are NOT this luxurious. We have been wondering where all those expensive SUVs were headed to out at the farm.

We have seen an uptick in interest in Ecuador luxury.   Rather than looking for a lower cost of living, an increasing number of readers  are interested in affordable luxury.  Industry is responding and luxury resorts are being built.
This photo is from a Forbes article “Entrepreneur Built South America’s Most Luxe Jungle Hotel: Mashpi Lodge”
Here is an excerpt:  Here’s to attempting impossible projects,” says Ecuadorean entrepreneur Roque Sevilla as we clink glasses at the hotel he owns in Quito, talking about his latest “beautiful, impossible project,” Mashpi Lodge in the Andean cloud forest.

With a master’s in public administration from Harvard, Sevilla has a background as colorful as one of the hummingbirds that hover at Mashpi. Since the 1970s he has founded and run several of Ecuador’s largest insurance companies, served as mayor of Quito, been active with the World Wildlife Fund and become the president of Ecuador’s biggest travel company, Metropolitan Touring.

He’s also a passionate orchid cultivator and collector. Twelve years ago, when he learned that deforestation threatened his favorite species, he doubled down on his conservation efforts. With friends, he began buying parcels of land in the Choc? bioregion (about three hours northwest of Quito) that would eventually total more than 3,200 acres.

The 22 rooms and suites occupy a stunning glass-and-steel contemporary building. Virtually every wall is a window, and many guests do little more than soak up the climate-controlled views. But Mashpi also offers a variety of excursions that generally don’t require too much hardship, not to mention a unique “sky bike” that hangs from a cable across a 200-meter-wide gorge.

Sevilla says his goal of preserving the land led him to put, all told, about $10 million into Mashpi, even though he knew it had “all the conditions not to be successful economically.” But the lodge is actually in the black, he says, as guests are proving more than willing to spend about $1,300 per person for two nights to stay at the jungle cocoon. “Sometimes, like this one, an idea is so crazy that it begins having economic success.”

Ecuador still offers a good lifestyle for those on a limited budget… but increasingly those with a big budget Ecuador is a place to visit or invest.



Monday, December 9, 2013

Elian Gonzalez leaves Cuba for first time since bitter custody battle

Note from Blog: Remember this boy? If he is antying like the THOUSANDS of other Cubans who are migrating to Ecuador.....he will finnally get his wish to leave Communist Cuba. Unless..they have not already brainwashed him.




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Ismael Francisco/AP

There's no question where Elian Gonzalez' allegiance lies. Gonzalez, now 20, is a military cadet studying engineering. He left Cuba for the first time since the bitter custody dispute in 2000.

Elian Gonzalez has taken his first trip out of Cuba since his ill-fated 2000 escape from the Communist island that thrust him into an international custody dispute.
Gonzalez, who turned 20 on Friday, traveled to Quito, Ecuador, with a 200-person Cuban delegation for a weeklong youth conference, according to reports.
The international fight over where Gonzalez would live ended with him returning to Cuba. In this picture, armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy.


The international fight over where Gonzalez would live ended with him returning to Cuba. In this picture, armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy.

Despite being out of the international spotlight for more than a decade, Gonzalez told Cuban reporters that the infamous guardianship battle continues to make him a recognizable face.
“Wherever I go there’s always a child, an old woman that comes to me and wants to meet me,” Gonzalez told CNN. “Not because I’m famous, but because they suffered with my family.”
Then-leader Fidel Castro led the charge in Cuba to get Gonzalez returned to his native land. Gonzalez recently called the infamous Castro a 'father' figure.


Then-leader Fidel Castro led the charge in Cuba to get Gonzalez returned to his native land. Gonzalez recently called the infamous Castro a 'father' figure.

Gonzalez was 6 when he was found off the coast of Florida clinging to an inner tube after a rickety boat sank, killing his mother and nine others.
He was placed with relatives in Miami, but his father Juan Miguel successfully fought to have him returned to Cuba.
Cuba's President Raul Castro (left) and Elian Gonzalez attend an official event in Havana in 2010. The two appeared together to mark the 10-year annivesary of the politcally charged custody battle.

Adalberto Roque/AP

Cuba's President Raul Castro (left) and Elian Gonzalez attend an official event in Havana in 2010. The two appeared together to mark the 10-year annivesary of the politcally charged custody battle.

The nation’s leader at the time, Fidel Castro, battled to have little Elian returned to his native Cuba. Protesters flooded the streets at the peak of the controversial cusody fight, which ended in the boy being sent back to Cuba.
Gonzalez is now studying industrial engineering and is a military cadet, CNN reported.
Gonzalez, who has clearly become a die-hard Cuban nationalist, recently said that his reverance for Castro is boundless. Gonzalez’s image of Castro is an blend of deity and dad.
“Fidel Castro for me is like a father,” Gonzalez recently told a Cuban paper. “I don’t profess to have any religion, but if I did my God would be Fidel Castro. He is like a ship that knew to take his crew on the right path.”
Follow me on Twitter: @IrvingDeJohn

Where Ecuadorians Go to Escape the City...

By Suzan Haskins
"Don't worry, you won't have a problem finding a place to stay," said my friend as we drove into General Villamil Playas (commonly just called "Playas"), the closest beach town to Guayaquil. "The hotels here never fill up."
He should know. He owns a condo in Playas and drives there easily in just over an hour from his home in Guayaquil to spend weekends and holidays at this beach town on Ecuador's southern coast, named by some as the "sunniest beach" in the country. So after lunch at the Ocean Towers Beach Club (the nicest beach resort I've seen anywhere in Ecuador) we set off in search of a hotel room for the night.
You guessed it: no room at the inn. It was the last holiday weekend of the summer season, after which kids would be back in school and parents would be settling into the school-week rituals. During holidays in Ecuador, anyone who lives close enough goes to the beach. Still, I've often told people that unless there is a holiday they won't have problems finding accommodation in Ecuador's beach town. Problem is, there's always something to celebrate in Ecuador.
Luckily for me, my friend knows many people in Playas. A friend of his owns a perfect little beach bungalow that family members often stay in and that she occasionally rents to people like me...who show up with no reservations. Called La Ramada, it's on the other side of the jetty from Playas' municipal beach and the perfect place from which to explore the town.
It felt like I had my own private beach, in fact. There were only a few beachgoers enjoying the sun, sand and waves just big enough to support a surfboard. (A great place for a novice surfer.) After taking a few quick photos, I decided to walk through the arch in the jetty and into the heart of Playas.
It was like walking from one vortex into another...from calm to chaos.
The commercial heart and residential area of this city of about 26,000 residents is front and center on a sweeping crescent-shaped bay. On this particular Saturday, as I've said, hordes of day trippers from Guayaquil had descended on this part of the beach...
From beneath umbrellas and sun tents and make-shift tarps they emerged to throw balls (and toss back a few beers) and bob in the surf.
On makeshift grills, lunches of fresh fish were slowly roasting. Vendors trolled the beach and hawked roasted plantains, ice cream, and fresh coconuts from carts planted here and there in the sand. And of course, music blared...and amidst all this action, dozens of gaily colored wooden fishing boats pulled up on the beach.
If you prefer your beach life to be a bit more sedate, don't worry, just head west... Away from the chaos of the heart of Playas, it's easy to find your own piece of very quiet beach.
And if you love fresh seafood, Playas is definitely your kind of place. That's what I discovered that evening when I dined on fresh shrimp and a huge fillet smothered in garlic sauce at a tiny family-run restaurant, and sat watching the sun cast brilliant colors across the sky...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fast-food strikes return amid push for wage hikes

Note from Blog:  The return to sanity in the USA might be to see the end of the fast food restaurant industry.

NEW YORK (AP) — Fast-food workers and labor organizers are marching, waving signs and chanting in cities across the country Thursday amid a push for higher wages.

Organizers say walkouts are planned in 100 cities, with rallies set for another 100 cities. But it's not clear what the actual turnout will be, how many of the participants are workers and what impact they'll have on restaurant operations.

The actions would mark the largest showing yet in a push that began a year ago. At a time when there's growing national and international attention on economic disparities, labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats are hoping to build public support to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25, or about $15,000 a year for full-time work.

Protesters are calling for pay of $15 an hour, but the figure is seen more as a rallying point than a near-term possibility.

In New York City, about 100 protesters blew whistles and beat drums while marching into a McDonald's at around 6:30 a.m.; one startled customer grabbed his food and fled as they flooded the restaurant, while another didn't look up from eating and reading amid their chants of "We can't survive on $7.25!"

Community leaders took turns giving speeches for about 15 minutes until the police arrived and ordered protesters out of the store. The crowd continued to demonstrate outside for about 45 minutes. A McDonald's manager declined to be interviewed and asked that the handful of customers in the store not be bothered.

In Detroit, about 50 demonstrators turned out for a pre-dawn rally in front of a McDonald's. A handful of employees walked off the job, but the restaurant stayed open as a manager and other employees worked the front counter and drive-thru window.

Julius Waters, a 29-year-old McDonald's maintenance worker who was among the protesters, said it's hard making ends meet on his wage of $7.40 an hour.

"I need a better wage for myself, because, right now, I'm relying on aid, and $7.40 is not able to help me maintain taking care of my son. I'm a single parent," Waters said.
In Atlanta, about 40 demonstrators rallied at a Burger King; another demonstration was planned later in the day.

The push for higher pay in the fast-food industry faces an uphill battle. The industry competes aggressively on value offerings and companies have warned that they would need to raise prices if wages were hiked. Most fast-food locations are also owned and operated by franchisees, which lets companies such as McDonald's Corp., Burger King Worldwide Inc. and Yum Brands Inc. say that they don't control worker pay.

However, labor advocates have pointed out that companies control many other aspects of restaurant operations through their franchise agreements, including menus, suppliers and equipment.

Fast-food workers have historically been seen as difficult to unionize, given the industry's high turnover rates. But the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers in health care, janitorial and other industries, has been providing considerable organizational and financial support to the push for higher pay over the past year.

Berlin Rosen, a political consulting and public relations firm based in New York City, also has been coordinating communications efforts and connecting organizers with media outlets.

The National Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group, said most those protesting were union workers and that "relatively few" workers have participated in past actions. It called the demonstrations a "campaign engineered by national labor groups."

McDonald's said in a statement that it's "committed to providing our employees with opportunities to succeed." The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said it offers employees advancement opportunities, competitive pay and benefits.

In the meantime, the protests are getting some high-powered support from the White House. In an economic policy speech Wednesday, President Barack Obama specifically mentioned fast-food and retail workers "who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty" in his call for raising the federal minimum wage.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez also offered words of support for the protesters on the agency's blog.
"We see momentum gathering and a consensus emerging around the idea that we need to increase the federal minimum wage, to give these workers and millions like them a fair day's pay for a fair day's work," Perez said in the statement.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised a vote on the wage hike by the end of the year. But the measure is not expected to gain traction in the House, where Republican leaders oppose it.

Supporters of wage hikes have been more successful at the state and local level. California, Connecticut and Rhode Island raised their minimum wages this year. Last month, voters in New Jersey approved an increase in the minimum to $8.25 an hour, up from $7.25 an hour.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Ecuador Beats California

Note from Blog: Patricia does not metion the desire for "Black Friday". 
 by  Patricia Adams Farmer
Cut down coconut bunch with machete. Put one or two coconuts in the fridge to get cold. Cut a hole in the top of the coconut. Insert straw...
This routine is part of my daily life on the north central coast of Ecuador. My husband Ron and I live in the small fishing village of El Matal near the town of Jama and drink fresh coconut water daily—from our very own coconut trees. El Matal happens to be the setting for the award-winning film Pescador by Sebastian Cordero, but to us it’s just home.
We never dreamed of retiring early to such a life, but we have fallen in love with it—the simplicity, the beauty, the climate, the people, and a way of life the locals call tranquilo.
We are expats from Southern California who wanted to retire early, but could not bring ourselves to venture far from the ocean and the warm weather. But retiring on the coast of California was out of our realm of possibilities. The coast of Ecuador captured our attention in 2008 and in 2011, we made the leap.
Here in El Matal we have a unique situation: a beach too beautiful for words with hardly anyone on it—okay, a couple of cows saunter by on occasion, but scant few people on the whole. The concept of a rural beach sounds like a paradox. Don’t beaches this beautiful boast of high-rises and crowds of tourists?
Not this one. And with fingers crossed, we hope it stays this way for a long time.
Such a rural setting is not for everyone. Cities offer convenience, shopping, amenities, and social stimulation. We do enjoy our visits to cities. But we are quiet people who love nature, so for putting down roots, we chose the rural end of the spectrum. We prefer to wake up, not to city noise, but to the rhythmic sounds of the sea and the whistle of blackbirds in the coconut trees.
On sunny days the warm, turquoise water reminds us of the Caribbean. On cloudy days the cooler temperatures attract large flocks of pelicans. We live according to the tides. Every day is different like the sea.
Aren’t we bored? On the contrary, we’re busy and active—sometimes too much so. We teach online and write and practice our Spanish when we’re not walking the beach on the hunt for shells and pre-Columbian pottery.
We chose Ecuador for its natural beauty and low cost. We have found both. Our cost of living is a fifth of that in Southern California. But we do, by choice, live a simple life. We don’t even own a car! (Southern Californians without a car? Another paradox). For me, this means grocery shopping in the nearby town of Jama by means of "moto-taxi"—settling back on the red-cushioned seat of an open-air cab while enjoying the sight of fishermen working their nets, vistas of green hills arching up in the distance, and serene shrimp ponds dotted with ducks and snowy egrets.
Making the transition from urban California to rural Ecuador was no easy matter. At times we questioned our sanity. But the Ecuadorian locals are always there to help. And there are other expats—a growing number, even here in El Matal—among whom we find mutual support. I’m not saying that we don’t continue to face challenges and frustrations, but as we near the three-year anniversary of our life in Ecuador, we feel grateful beyond measure to have found such a place as El Matal to call home.

Black Friday

Note from this Blog: It has been 12 years this January since the departure to Ecuador from the USA. It is increasingly alarming how the culture of the United States continues to degrade to the least common denominatorof society. The direction in which this once great country has turned in such a short time is incredible and hard to imagine. GOD HELP US KEEP THIS OUT OF ECUADOR.

December 3, 2013 by  

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Black Friday
I know I should already expect them, but they still surprise me every year. Whether it’s a crowd trampling some poor security guard to death at the 5 a.m. Doorbuster Black Friday sale at the mall or someone stabbing someone else over the chance to buy an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, I’m still routinely unprepared for the holiday season headlines of mayhem and manslaughter amid the mirth and merriment.

In Philadelphia, a small group of women got into a closed-fist, prison-yard rumble — complete with the deployment of a stun gun — that may have involved at least one of their children. A mall in Sacramento, Calif., hosted a barn burner of a beat down, which began over a pair of panties at a Victoria’s Secret. And Wal-Mart stores nationwide saw their yellow smiley faces splattered with blood as Black Friday shoppers turned the electronics departments into Mixed Martial Arts cage fights.
I forget these seasonal reminders of just how ridiculous our consumer culture can make some of our less inhibited compatriots. They do such a marvelous job of proving themselves throughout the rest of the year by blaming their problems on productive Americans, shrieking into their “Obamaphones” and voting for Democrats. Nonetheless, in modern-day parlance: Really?!?

The only way I might get violent at a mall would be if they wouldn’t let me leave. And I’m smart enough to stay the hell out of stores like Victoria’s Secret; they have a website, for cripes sake. I shop at Wal-Mart on at least a semi-regular basis, and I have yet to encounter any of their wares that are worth another shopper’s blood — much less his life.

But don’t read this as an indictment of the American love of stuff — especially stuff we can’t afford. At least these melees break out over people’s sense-occluding desire to buy stuff, as opposed to just stealing or looting it (New Orleans not included). Through most of the year, we tend to buy, sell and/or lease with a minimum of bloodshed. While our pursuits might well make many of us debt-ridden fools who are trying to drown their sorrows in professional-grade espresso makers and theater-style popcorn machines, they also partially fuel an economy that has withstood the broadsides of President Barack Obama’s bumbling for nearly six years. Of course, it would be lovely if Americans were motivated by more altruistic factors. However, consider that comparing the poorest Americans to the poorest people in places where “stuff” means “foliage near the hut” is like comparing Stephen Spielberg to a film student with a broken 8mm Bell and Howell — meaning our consumer-driven culture provides even its non-producers with the chance to be consumers.

And even amid our most murderous mall-marauding moments, we can’t sniff the title for “Most Likely to Kill Each Other Over Something Truly Ridiculous.” We can’t compete with the Mideast, where they’ve been fighting the same battle since at least the 7th century. We can’t compete with Asia, where politics trumps life to the tune of Tiananmen Square (although we are catching up with the Chinese in the state-sponsored infanticide standings). We can’t compete with Central and South America, where murder is often considered a hobby, if not a legitimate vocation. We can’t compete with Europe, where homicide is an acceptable response to an adverse result in a soccer game. In fact, we can’t even compete with Detroit, where life is worth slightly less than the price of the newest Nikes.

The annual American Black Friday free-for-all is weird, sad and — most importantly — tragic. But it could be worse; at least we get some lovely parting gifts. Now, who wants an espresso?
–Ben Crystal