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Deaths of Ecuadorian stowaways contrasts with the freedom of movement enjoyed by North Americans

By Matthew Hayes

The tragic death of two teenagers from north of Cuenca who tried to stow away on a Latam jet bound for the U.S. draws attention to the privileged mobility of North Americans relocating to Ecuador — some of whom have commented on these deaths in ways that draw attention to these inequalities.

For instance, one comment on a CuencaHighLife story posted Wednesday, echoing what I am sure others might think as well, stated the following: “Of course this is a major tragedy. However it should serve as a lesson to other illegal immigrants, that doing wrong carries with it an element of high risk and danger.”

Re: “María Cruz said the families’ knew of the boys’ intentions to move to the U.S.” Then the families also knew the boys were going to try and enter the U.S. ILLEGALLY. So in my opinion, these families share a responsibility in their deaths. And this is the result of people that lack respect for other countries and their laws, but then make a decision that none of it applies to them. Like I said, “a major tragedy”, and in so many ways. RIP”

A cell phone picture of the two boys who died in Guayaquil.

I can see how some people would find this just makes common sense, but it really doesn’t.

Over the last few decades, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have done at least two things that have led directly to these types of risk-taking. First, they have helped destroy the social infrastructure of Latin American countries, turning a blind eye as financial interests in New York reap huge returns on debts contracted on usurious terms, at interest rates that reflect “country risk.” This colonial financial left-over justifies an unequal global financial system that serves high consumption North American lifestyles, allocating credit to things like mortgage markets and consumer debt, rather than the education, health care and professional training needs of countries like Ecuador. These latter are deemed insufficiently profitable. Any attempt to bring about a more just and democratic allocation of global credit is blocked by entrenched financial interests in Congress, who refer to long debunked economic theory to justify their survival of the fittest mentality of free economic competition. There are human consequences to this so-called ‘free competition’, and they are going to get more severe as time goes on.

Second, over the last few decades, Congress has eliminated all legal means for non-nationals to pursue work in the United States (in part because large corporations have cut back Americans’ jobs, and these latter are worried about those that are left). Despite this, there is huge demand in low-paying service industries for non-national labour — but there are most often enough so-called ‘illegals’ to fill this demand adequately. Moreover, those who employ this labour — farmers, meat packers, franchise rentiers and many others — benefit most from border exclusions, since Latin American workers end up vulnerable to detention and deportation and can be manipulated to accept sometimes dangerous and lower paid positions that citizens would never accept.

For Latin Americans, closing the border leaves LITTLE CHOICE but to enter ‘illegally.’ Sure, these kids could have stayed home. But it is not hard to see why so many like them don’t. It is not just that there are few opportunities for rural youth in Ecuador, where many are discriminated against (note: these kids were initially presumed to be Peruvian, perhaps because of their more indigenous features). Like a lot of Americans and Canadians who retire to Ecuador, these kids wanted to pursue adventure and broader horizons; they wanted to ‘get ahead’ and ‘develop themselves’ as individuals. The tragedy here is that the dreams of kids like Marco and Luis are not considered legitimate or equal to Americans’ dreams. They don’t mean anything to most Americans, who, unaware of their complicity in the poverty and lack of opportunity these kids have, continue to elect politicians who make matters worse (both Republicans and Democrats).

If Americans did know how complicit they are, they would be shocked and I believe they would do something about it – because there are solutions that are fair for everyone. Alas, the press is not free in America. It is owned by billionaires who live a good life by the misery of others, and who benefit from a vision of the world similar to the comment above – “they are illegals, they deserve what they got, and their families are complicit.”

These are crappy and unfair ideas, but it is not difficult to see where comments like the ones above come from, and why they seem sensible to some. Yet, they draw attention to a certain social position in global society. In some ways, the commenter has too much power and is, unfortunately, not yet aware of it – they are out of touch with reality.

What the commenter and others like him/her need is a mirror that might gently remind them how big they are. In its absence, wecan all end up with distorted worldviews that contribute to heartless mistakes in judgement with real human consequences. Of course, we can stand by the status quo and defend global inequalities as an order of nature if we want to. But nature provides no empirical foundation for them – we arbitrarily identify with our dreams and life goals putting them ahead of others’ at all costs. By doing so, we also fail to hold even more powerful people to account. We fail to be the mirrors they also need.

Matthew Hayes is a Canadian sociology professor and researcher who has studied Cuenca and the impact of North American expats on the city. He published an article about his research in the journal Ethnic and Racial StudiesClick here to read it.

37 thoughts on “Deaths of Ecuadorian stowaways contrasts with the freedom of movement enjoyed by North Americans

  1. The people that died were two men, even if you flunked biology class you should realize that there is no such thing as a 16 year old boy, I know terms like girl and boy are also used to refer to younger men and women but to try to pass them off as “kids” is beyond ridicules. These were adults and they should have known that this was dumb dumb dumb. I agree this was a tragedy but let’s face it, there is no way either of these men were going to become the next Nikola Tesla so although its a loss for their families they would have not been able to contribute anything to the United States other than maybe as voters for one of the major political parties.

    Freedom of movement is an essential human liberty, one of many essential liberties that are almost lost entirely. Theoretically speaking opening the borders is the right thing to do but after decades of both a welfare state and a warfare state opening the borders is something that must be phased in, and preferably along with the phasing out of the warfare and welfare states. If you think about it even of the U.S. were to stop all wars of foreign aggression today, it would probably take a generation of peace before it would be safe to open up the borders completely. Although it would take years to wean the majority of people on welfare off of welfare (only a small minority are both physically and mentally disabled and therefore truly unable to work), a law that all new welfare recipients of qualifying dependents have to be at least 2nd generation Americans would go a long way to making it possible to open up the borders more.

    Concerning the ignorant comments that you referenced gringos having made, the problem is that most people have decided to set their moral compasses based on the statutes of criminal governments not based on what is moral or right. Latinos can get a visa to the United States without even speaking a word of English and can sign up for welfare as soon as they get of the boat. I’d much rather deal with an illegal that speaks English and works for a living then someone with all their paperwork in order that is completely incompatible with the U.S. culture and will probably just end up living a life of crime. When the U.S. government green lights known Muslim terrorists these same sheeple accept then with open arms because they were given a piece of paper yet they will reject hard working Latinos. I know some Latinos commit crimes but I have yet to see a Latino shout ¡Dios es el mejor! and blow themself up.

    1. Michael, I take it you live here in Ecuador. When you came here did you speak Spanish?? The united States is a melting pot of people from around the world. Many different cultures and languages. Have you read the requirements to get a green card for the USA? It cost more then a years wages for Latin America .Then they can not work for a year. So most do jobs under the table for less then most Americans there. They do the jobs that you wouldn’t do because you think your to good for it. It’s easy to say they should of known better, but they was trying to make a better life for them and their families here. The trip through central America and Mexico is dangerous and expensive. 16 or 21 or what ever age, they thought that was the safest way to get there. Haven’t you made mistakes when you was that age? I know I made a lot, but I learned from them. I was just lucky my mistakes didn’t end my life. Cruel comments about someone trying to make a better life for themselves and loosing their life for for it is just cold hearted.

      1. I did speak Spanish when I got here because I lived in Paraguay for 9 months before that but I understand your point; When I first arrived in Paraguay I did not speak any Spanish whatsoever, in fact my little sister who was bilingual was so worried about my lack of Spanish that she decided to go there with me for a while to make sure I was ok. I had Spanish class in high school but usually slept through it as I had no reason to think I would ever need it. In the months before I left the States I tried to learn Spanish but did not make any progress. I would have gladly forced myself to learn it beforehand were it a requirement (and I do think it should have been a requirement in every country that people learn the language).

  2. Thank you, Mr Hayes, for this great article. It boggles my mind that people can be so callous when they think about this tragic event ( one of MANY tragedies that happen every day when people just try to better their circumstances) and when the privileged continue to choose to live in the oblivion. Too uncomfortable to have empathy. You might have to do something about it.

  3. So very sad. A big mistake on the two kids’ part, one that cannot be undone. It happens all too often throughout the world, where people are desperate for a better life and for opportunities. I am with you when you say that this is a tragedy, and there is not a simple solution.

  4. Mr. Hayes has brought up so many important issues—all tragically true. The boys death was a tragedy (and brains don’t mature until much later in life so they were boys by any definition), but the bigger tragedy is a blind eye. Let’s open our eyes and work for a better world in all respects for all people.

  5. Oh, one more thing Nikola Tesla came from Serbia and the U.S. can count itself lucky he came. Under today’s laws he would have never been allowed in. He had nothing to recommend him then, but look at what he created!

  6. As much as I agree with everything the writer says, there is a simple reason for this tragedy: people are still stupid enough to believe in the ‘American Dream’. There is NO American Dream. The US is a nightmare country with people being exploited and racial and gender etc inequalities being rampant and destroying any chance of being treated equally. Do NOT be fooled by their rhetoric of being the best country and offering equal opportunities. They are LYING.

  7. The USA is NOT responsible for the deaths of these 2 young men. US citizens are NOT responsible for the deaths of these 2 young men. Why is it that liberals all want the USA to be responsible for the well-being of the rest of the world? Why is it that people in all of the countries we are supposed to extend open arms to are not trying to change the circumstances in their own countries?

    I have empathy for the circumstances that lead these young men to risk it all for a better life, but I think they’d have been better served by trying to create better circumstances for themselves and others like them in their OWN country. I, for one, will NOT let some leftist, socialist, guilt-purveying communistic person like this Hayes fellow tell me I’m responsible for the deaths of people like these 2 young men.

    1. Hey Phil, Why didn’t your ancestors –Europeans I presume– create better circumstances for themselves in the old country instead of foolishly setting out for a new land to which which they had not been invited?

    2. You sound like a Trump admirer and that places you in the “poorly educated” group. However, I agree with your observation that the US is not responsible for the unfortunate demise of two unwise young people. Mr. Hayes’s article points out a very, very narrow perspective about a global issue afflicting the human especie…over population with a disastrous foot print exacerbated by billions of people lacking the wherewithal to change their existence (economic, social, intellectual, etc). Instead of blaming a country USA that is on a declining curve (facts are facts pal) for the ills of the world; people from other countries need to take responsability for their fates…look at Chile, Panama, South Korea, Finland and other countries that have overcome the weight of their pervasive histories and their perceived as inevitable destinies. Education is the common thread and visionary leaders with determination to get their people to see the long term of communal/individual participation…cheers.

      1. Favio Resstelli – You start out with assumptions and insults – not a very strong foundation for your premise, if you ask me.

        I am also not responsible for the overpopulation of the world.

        People coming to the USA illegally must be made aware of the consequences, which are also not my fault. A tremendous number of those people send money back to their home country. What do their families spend that money on? Do you propose that they spend it on education? Saving it to buy houses? Saving it to immigrate LEGALLY? While some may do those things, I propose that the majority of them buy clothing, cars, computers, TVs, tattoos alcohol and the like.

        You must be an Obama supporter, since you decided to give a condescending lecture. Though I do think his would have been better written

  8. Agreed!! And, of course, Bergers diatribe is also full of complete lies … like this one “Latinos can get a visa to the United States without even speaking a word of English and can sign up for welfare as soon as they get of the boat”. Uninformed is way too kind.

    1. I can actually attest to the fact, first hand, that in the US Latinos have been granted visas, green cards, citizenship and even social security without speaking a word of english… and that’s not even including the free medical care. I’m not taking a stand either way on the issue. I just wanted to set the record straight on this matter. My ex gf’s mother was able to do all of the above. Maybe this has changed in the last year but 12 to 16 months ago it was totally possible.

  9. I wanted to comment on Matthew Hayes article on the 2 young men that dies seeking a better life for themselves.

    While Matthew is correct about being both Democrat and Republicans, it is far more a republican controlled congress and Senate as it has been for a while. So to blame them equally is not correct. However lets not get off the subject.

    The United States is not the same country I grew up in. The United States, the country I grew up in was more like Costa Rica and Ecuador. Friendly and seek to help others. Today it is a selfish nation. I have lived in both Costa Rica and Ecuador and find the people very caring and loving as the once great country I grew up in. Some of my Ecuadorian friends told me when I lived there that “the United States is a country I could not disagree with them.

    President Correa and the government of Ecuador has done more to advance health care than any other country in the world. Health care is but one of the issues affected by the “1 per centers” in the USA. The government in the USA has moved from a democracy to an Oligarchy. Hence, the one per centers. To many in the USA and some close to me, I might add, do not care, as like many in different places have the idea that if it does not affect me, I am ok. They are not! Still others believe that I have mine, let them get theirs. They
    think they received good fortune all on their own, for getting those that came before them and made a way.

    Immigration and the “wall to be paid for by the Mexican people.” How and why did so many “illegal” Latinos, cross the southern border and get into the USA? The answer to this takes us back to the 2 boy that died recently. What lured those boy to the USA and what has lured so many latinso across the southern border is the same thing a better life. If you follow even remotely the politics of the United States you know that Democrats for the most part, and especially from the middle 1960’s, have been about equal rights, for minorities (especially blacks), women, gays, and other minorities. to include jobs, housing, and voting rights. The republicans are the backers of the 1 per centers and the powerful and rich lobbyists that surround Washing ton D.C. The Rich farmers of the US southwest, those southern border states of Texas, Arizona
    and California employed the “illegal” immigrants that crossed the border looking for a better life. No one cared when they started coming across the border, especially those rich farmers, as it was “cheap labor” Now there are many of them and the rich farmers that are part of the republican party want to get rid of them, like yesterday’s trash.

    Who receives backing from the powerful National Rifle Association? The republicans who sit on their fat wallets from campaign money received from the NRA, while citizens are murdered on the streets of the USA. Las Vegas was just the latest. Children murdered in schools across the country and there is no end in sight, as the the republican controlled congress does nothing. The same people keep voting them into office, with the mentality of, it is not my family or it is not my child getting murderer on the streets of in the class room.

    It’s an attitude that has changed the people of the once Great country of the United States of America. SELFISHNESS!

  10. Excellent well-thought out article, Dr. Hayes(Michael) that I know is based on your years of research that include the changing migration patterns between North and South America. These deaths are tragic from any viewpoint,but nothing is to be gained by the “blame the victim”stance.” The issue is extremely complicated and goes back for decades, so there is no simple explanation or solution. The points you raise are valid, Michael, and I very much look forward to your more in depth book to be published in the fall or winter by a renowned US university press. Whether one agrees with you or not, your writings give rise to much food for thought.

  11. re the post at least it was insensitive to the families and if they may have read it….two BOYS died as a dream to better themselves in the world without much other recourse , but, to enter disneyland in a disneyland way. to assume they would not contribute to the USA is presumptuous and racist as so many illegal immigrants have contributed so much to the USA and so many USA citizens and as politicians have done so much harm to the USA in the name of patriot. then need remind that all americans are in a sense illegal as they took the nation from the indigenous american indians – some 60 million by some accounts. this can never be forgotten to a shameful USA american history. and then in the name of christianity…they could have integrated and shared the land with the indigenous native americans if allowed, yet, choose to savagely commit genocide on them….then shame on christianity as well that can not be forgiven even by a god.

  12. Thanks, Steve… appreciate your comments. Kind of fun too re: Groucho comment! Karl never said that?
    I guess I wonder why some folks come to this small, sweet country to live. maybe appreciate life here, try to relax even — and cannot cease HARSH JUDGING EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE? Seems to me to be a miserable way to live –Try trading your pinched views for “live and let live” — might make you a happier person.

    1. sueb4bs – I read an article recently that claimed many of the people moving to Ecuador and other similar countries are doing so purely for financial reasons. They did not – for whatever reason – save for retirement. Or not very well, at any rate.

      They then feel “forced” to live in a country that is vastly different than the one from which they came. They don’t speak the language. They don’t accept the culture. They miss their family. They feel trapped in an existence which they chafe against. They become bitter and criticize everything about their new home country.

      So, they find it easy to be harsh.

      They find it easy to judge everything and everyone in this new country. It’s the typical transference of blame that is so prevalent these days. Even though it IS their fault, they REFUSE to even CONSIDER that possibility. Very sad.

      1. Philip: Thanks for your comments. My feeling is: I am someone who has lived in Ecuador 7 years this year soltera — before in Chile and Argentina, since 2001. Please — give me a break… everyone has the power within to both change their attitudes and their lives. RIch countries produce “ëntitled” folks… additionally, I don’t see anyone making this move to ANOTHER COUNTRY with ease, everything is not perfect. You don’t do your homework/ research, you are bitter and disappointed–and I guess you pay the price, driving yourself and your partner nuts. Recall each of us foreigners has challenging days , no matter our finances. You need a passion and an appreciation for South America, its ways and culture AND LEARN some language skills, for heavens’ sake and prepare to change, simply put. Cranky gringitos one can simply avoid – ignore the cranks online. SImplemente, son maleducados…Your explanations are too simplistic . This is my take….

  13. Seriously? Start with alternating current for our electric grid. He even created free electricity, but since he wrote nothing down, and kept it all in his head, many of his inventions died with him. Many were also lost in a very suspicious fire that burned his lab down. Yet his creations and inventions were legion. Without his contributions we would live in a very different world today. Why don’t you google him. He was a genius!

    1. LP, I will. After reading your post I was thinking to myself that he was a very talented individual but I couldn’t remember why he was. Thanks.

  14. I would offer 4 observations.
    1. I think we should be concerned about airport security that would allow them on the tarmac to climb onto that plane.
    2. Even in my small, idyllic, predominately white, farm community in Missouri in the 1960s 16 year old boys did stupid things that got them killed. Testosterone was more influential than philosophy and politics.
    3. Many in Latin America have, in the past, viewed the US as a city on the hill. Some still do. Others lament the passing of the hope it offered.
    4. When a country loses its best, brightest, most adventurous youth to another country, the country of origin has been diminished.

  15. You are probably right however it’s biology that determines when one becomes a man or woman not society. I started working at 12 years old mowing lawns for neighbors and got my first job when I was 14 years old. I have been a man since I was 14 years old but some people don’t finish going through puberty until sometime in their 15th year. Shortly after my 16th birthday I started a video production business with another 16 year old man and we had to have his mom open up a bank account for our business because the laws discriminated so strongly against adults under 18 years of age. I had a girlfriend who was also 16, just a few months older than me, and she was 100% woman (that I can absolutely guarantee you). I think that we should base our definitions of things based on objective reality not on the whims of any culture. Referring to these men as “kids” borders on fake news.

    1. Childhood, adulthood, adolescence . . . they’re all social constructs that vary by culture so there’s no point in arguing them. Indigenous communities in which I worked throughout the Americas have no concept of an adolescence. One goes directly from being a child to being an adult once they reach fertility. If you want to stick to the strictly biological definition, a human male isn’t an adult until around 25 years of age as that is when the frontal lobe of the brain completes development. For females it’s around 14 years of age.

  16. Since on average the women here are more beautiful than there I assume what you really meant to say is “fast cars and easy women”. And yeah, after working from 10am to 5pm and taking a two hour lunch in the middle of the day, they won’t have anywhere near the stamina needed to work in sawmills and factories where there are 12 hour shifts. If they want to live a dozen to a bedroom they can make a lot of money but if they get caught up in America’s consumer lifestyle of over consumption they’ll never have anything worth speaking of to send back home.

    1. Brilliant Thomas Anderson and who’s fault is that? Actually, it happens everyday to those that step out into unfamiliar territory. Who is to blame?

  17. It’s hard to take this seriously when your premises are flawed.

    You claim, “Second, over the last few decades, Congress has eliminated all legal means for non-nationals to pursue work in the United States…”

    This is just completely incorrect. My earning power and career advancement were cut short because of the large numbers of H1B visa holders from other countries flooding the IT job market in the US and driving down wages. This has gone on for over a decade, legally.

    You incorrectly claim the border has been closed. The border has NOT been closed – my wife, a Colombian citizen, entered the US LEGALLY and eventually became a US Citizen. Since the year 2000, approximately 1 million LEGAL immigrants have entered the US each year. Further, although illegal border crossings are down, they still take place with little impediment. The border is not closed by any stretch of the imagination.

    Yes, the United States is a big influence in Latin America. But by far the biggest influence is the countries themselves and their power structure, and the lack of education, opportunity and societal mobility they fail to provide their own citizens.

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