Sweet Summer Child Learns the Joys of Ecuadorian Bureaucracy


A young Ecuadorian lady has a story to tell, one I hear all too often here in Guayaquil. It is not pleasant; it doesn’t end well; and the worst part is that it’s not a story; it is the reality that thousands of Ecuadorians have to face every day.

Ecuador’s Ministry of Agriculture, in addition to generating endless paperwork, has a knack for awkward logo design. (MAGAP Facebook)

You see, in Ecuador we enjoy a government agency’s rigorous regulation and planning of foreign commerce. To protect us from our foolish selves and people we might voluntarily trade with, this agency has 1,001 processes — give or take a few. We have the honor of completing these before we can engage in the privilege of trading beyond Ecuador’s borders, if we can at all.

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The young lady, working but still in college, has to navigate these bureaucratic processes every working day of her life. She cries; she gets angry; she feels despair. She also sees no end to the papers she has to buy and fill out (yes, buy, because every bit of paperwork in Ecuador’s “citizens’ revolution” has a price). Bless her, she just doesn’t understand why these bureaucrats have to get in her way and hold her hand before any transaction.

But she forges on anyway, because choice isn’t high on the priorities list of those who rule over her. She can’t refuse; neither she nor her bosses and coworkers would be able to sustain themselves, to put food on the table.

They all had the misfortune of choosing commerce as a profession in a country such as Ecuador. Residents of other nations under 21st-century socialism get to enjoy a similar fate, if not worse.

“It’s incredible how much time of your life you waste,” she says. “You have to wait in their offices for so long, you make friends, friends!”

“Isn’t that good?” I ask, half joking, half serious. She is less than amused.

“When what ties you together is the bad experiences, the anger, and the resentment towards other people — in this case government officials — the appreciation you feel towards the friends you make is totally different. You don’t feel happiness when you see them, because you don’t want them to have to be there. You don’t like that you have plenty of time to talk, because that means the processes they are going through are just taking longer.”

This girl, who describes what she goes through as hell, is not oriented towards a particular political ideology. She’s not an anarchist, nor a classical liberal. At least at the outset, she even agreed with the need for bureaucratic processes, until she had to face them herself.

After all she has been through, she simply describes herself as a hater of the government on account of direct experience.

It is sad. Every time she tells her daily adventures to someone new, she has another misfortune to add. Last time I heard from her, there was no decent place for food inside or outside the building — as people remained penned up like cattle.

To rub salt into the wound, many of the government employees working there, who live off the money taken from legitimate enterprises, get paid almost US$5,000 per month. In Ecuador, that’s enough to live like royalty.

This is no way to live: to be at the mercy of the whims of a bureaucrat, just to go about one’s business. These processes merely give government employees a reason for being. Meanwhile, they make people’s lives harder: men and women have less time to be with their families, and taxpayer money goes to waste. Worst of all, honest people, like the girl, see their lives slide into misery, as the stupidity of central planning vanquishes their hopes.

Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

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