The Carter Center, through the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas, has been working in Ecuador since 1996 to eliminate river blindness disease in the nation and throughout the Americas. At the country's invitation, since 1998, the Center also has monitored elections, helped combat government corruption, and facilitated dialogue with neighboring countries.
In the last decade, Ecuador underwent major institutional and democratic transformation. In this context, the government of President Rafael Correa invited The Carter Center in 2007 to participate in several efforts, including the accompaniment of the Constituent Assembly process and the facilitation of a citizen dialogue process between Ecuador and Colombia.
The Carter Center fielded an electoral observation mission during the Constituent Assembly election held Sept. 30, 2007. According to reports from the Center's observers, who worked in close collaboration with the missions of the Organization of American States and the European Union, despite some procedural problems, Ecuadorians turned out to vote in a peaceful, orderly, and legitimate election.
The Carter Center fielded a second electoral observation mission during Ecuador's constitutional approval referendum on Sept. 28, 2008. After the new constitution was approved, the Center continued to monitor and report on the transition process in Ecuador, including the appointment of the temporary electoral authorities of Ecuador (National Electoral Council and the Litigious Electoral Tribunal).
The Carter Center also monitored the selection process of the interim members of the Council on Citizen Participation and Social Control, which took place between December 2008 and January 2009.
In March and April 2009, The Carter Center invited experts to facilitate workshops with the Council on Citizen Participation and Social Control to assist the drafting of the law to regulate the permanent council and to inform the media on citizen participation and oversight issues.
In 2007, The Carter Center initiated a dialogue process between influential individuals from Ecuador and Colombia to promote cooperation on projects affecting the lives of citizens at the border and improve mutual understanding between the two countries. Ten Ecuadorians and 10 Colombians participated in this dialogue process, which led to the establishment of the Binational Dialogue Group. The initiative continued through 2009 with a series of meetings and binational initiatives.
Participants reached a much deeper understanding of the perspectives of members from their neighbors. This initiative gained particular importance when a Colombian military operation took place on Ecuadorian soil on March 1, 2008. Despite the increase in tensions, the group engaged in a constructive dialogue and developed strategies for improving the relations between their countries.
The dialogue group succeeded in establishing close cooperative ties between several societal groups of both countries and helping prevent the escalation of the conflict.
The Carter Center and former President Carter, advised by members of the Bi-National Dialogue Group, also facilitated confidence-building agreements between Ecuador and Colombia in April and May 2008. President Carter hosted a private, informal meeting between the foreign ministers in Atlanta in May 2009 that contributed to the Sept. 23, 2009, public announcement of the intent of the two presidents to re-establish relations at the level of charge d'affaires in October 2009.
The Carter Center and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) initiated a dialogue forum among the five Andean countries (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia) and the United States in 2010. The purpose of the 18-month Andean-U.S. Dialogue Forum was to:
• Identify a common agenda for the six countries;
• Address misperceptions and misunderstandings between countries;,
• Propose innovative solutions to problematic issues; and
• Explore the possibility of bilateral dialogues between other pairs of countries experiencing tense relations.
In 1998, The Carter Center launched a project to help Ecuador's government combat corruption and to develop partnerships between the political and social sectors. At the time, Ecuador was ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in Latin America, according to Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. The Center's Americas and Conflict Resolution programs began a project in spring 2000 to identify the issues dividing the country and bring national leaders together to discuss them.
Although Latin America spends relatively less on defense than most other regions, expenditures on expensive weapons systems divert scarce foreign exchange from more effective investments and compel neighbors to spend more on defense and, by doing so, generate international tensions. Concerned about an arms race in Latin America, the Carter Center's Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas urged governments in the region to pause before embarking on major arms purchases. Between April 1997 and March 1998, 28 current 14 former heads of government signed a pledge to accept a moratorium of two years on purchasing sophisticated weapons. Among the signatories were Ecuador's then President Fabián Alarcón Rivera and former President Osvaldo Hurtado.
To support a healthy relationship between governments, the media, and journalists, as well as to promote policies and practices to strengthen freedom of expression, democratic governance, and the prevention and escalation of socio-political conflicts, The Carter Center held a series of discussions in countries across the Latin American region in 2013 and 2014 through the Contentious Issues in the Americas project.
The conversation's goal was to enhance compliance with the essential elements of a representative democracy, the defense and practice of human rights, and a better understanding of the values and principles of the American Convention of Human Rights, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. A central element in these debates is the fundamental question of what government's role should be in promoting and protecting the rights of independent media in Latin American democracies.
Latin America has made great strides to control river blindness, so that now - provided treatment and health education initiatives continue - permanent blindness from the disease no longer is a threat. Yet, until two decades ago, those who suffered from this painful and devastating disease had no hope for treatment.
Current status: Onchocerciasis eliminated
Verification status: Elimination verified in 2014 (read the Carter Center's press release)
Ecuador's Ministry of Health, with support from The Carter Center, first implemented efforts to prevent onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness) in 1990. Health education and Mectizan® (ivermectin, donated by Merck), were disseminated to communities in the northern part of Esmeraldas province, along the Cayapas, Santiago, and Onzole rivers. These communities comprised the single onchocerciasis-endemic focus in Ecuador, called Esmeraldas-Pichincha.
In 2008, a combined 27,372 ivermectin treatments were administered to just over 16,000 people. In 2010, the treatment was halted after transmission of onchocerciasis in the country was successfully interrupted using the regionally recommended strategy of twice yearly, community-wide administration of ivermectin and health education programs to all people in the afflicted areas.
An entomological evaluation conducted in 2012 at the end of the three-year, post-treatment surveillance period showed that morbidity had been eliminated and transmission of the parasite remained interrupted, (i.e., had stopped). Based upon the results obtained, OEPA's steering committee, in consultation with Ecuador's Ministry of Health, suggested the country apply for formal verification of elimination of the disease at the World Health Orzanization, which the ministry did in July 2013. The WHO International Verification Team (IVT) visited Ecuador in May 2014 and presented its report at the end of the visit. On Sept. 22, 2014, based on the IVT report, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan provided Ecuador with official notification that WHO has verified elimination of the disease.
Size: 283,561 square kilometers
Population below poverty line: 26 percent
Life expectancy: 77 years
Ethnic groups: mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), Montubio, Afroecuadorian, Amerindian, white, other
Religions: Roman Catholic, other
Languages: Spanish (official), indigenous (Quechua, Shuar)
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2015