Relatos: the CLACS Blog

Julie L. Williams


Julie L. Williams is a friend of CLACS and UIUC alumna who received her Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology.  She is also a former FLAS fellow.  Currently, she serves as the vice-dean of the College of Social Sciences and the Humanities at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, where she is also a professor of anthropology.


Just a few weeks ago, headlines in the national newspaper, El Comercio, (accessed April 26, 2020) read, “The Covid-19 Situation in Ecuador is Life or Death.” At that time, the Andean country of Ecuador, a territory roughly the size of Colorado with a population of 17.08 million, led Latin American nations in Covid-19 cases with a total of over 23,420 confirmed cases and 663 deceased (for official state statistics updated daily see: President Lenin Moreno’s progressively restrictive quarantining measures began enforcement March 16, 2020. Border closings in Ecuador marked some of the first in the region, by land, sea, and air. International flights were denied entry. The administration also prohibited interregional travel. A nationwide curfew began from 9:00pm-5:00a.m., but within a week expanded to 2:00p.m.-5:00a.m. Taxis, Ubers, and personal cars initially were limited to two days a week of circulation for food, medical supplies, or medical treatment. Circulation later reduced to just one day a week, eliminating all weekend circulation. Violators faced heavy fines and even jail time, at one point those jailed outnumbered confirmed Covid-19 cases. Checkpoints dot main thoroughfares, patrol cars circulate throughout the night, and whistleblowers report large, social gatherings to ensure compliance. Nearly 70% of businesses were forced to close, only online or delivery services remain active. All classes shifted online for the remainder of the academic year in both public and private institutions from K-12 to universities. The message became abundantly clear, “#quédate en casa,” stay home. Ecuador was and remains shutdown, yet public discourse now slowly shifts towards re-opening.

As the world considers strategies for reigniting economic production and cohabitating with the virus, Ecuador opted for a gradual, re-opening based on province to province and local evaluations. This “semaforización” or traffic light system proposed three levels of restriction. “Red” is the highest and most stringent, reflecting our current situation since March 16, 2020 (outlined above).  “Yellow,” an intermediate phase, continues 11-hour daily curfews, 2-days a week private circulation, 30% capacity in public transportation, and a re-opening of 30% of businesses. The “green” light indicates an eight-hour curfew, circulation on odd and even days, 70% of the workforce may return, 50% of all commercial activities may resume, and urban and interparish buses may circulate with up to 50% of passenger capacity. The general public grows weary of prolonged quarantine, works frantically to strategize their best way forward, and continually shifts to accommodate new government measures as they emerge.

 Guayas Province, specifically the port city of Guayaquil, sadly remains the most affected with 54% of the nation’s cases; yet different sectors of the city among 50 other cantons move from “Red” to “Yellow” on Monday, May 18, 2020. Quito, the nation’s capital, had an uptick of 1,256 cases in the last 24 hours, which may force Mayor Jorge Yunda to reconsider a “traffic light change” until May 31 or beyond, despite intense pressure from labor unions and citizens desperate to get back to work. However, citizens have yet to organize any public protests. Today, Ecuador officially reported 32,723 confirmed cases and 2,688 deaths related to Covid-19*. The entrepreneurial spirit reigns, as people push forward, despite these devastating challenges to conceptualize, innovate, introduce new services, maintain their private businesses afloat, and remain vigilant over the shifting tide of what Covid-19 will bring next.  


*With only 93,344 tests completed nationwide and two main challenges to the government's records, one of multiple cases opened for the same patient, which officials have started to rectify and the non-testing of those already deceased, the number of confirmed cases and related deaths may be largely skewed.