Ecuador writer takes trade protest to city walls
05 Apr 2006
By Alonso Soto
QUITO, Ecuador, April 5 (Reuters) - With can of spray paint in hand, Ecuadorean author Alex Ron has turned his writing talent loose on the walls of Quito to vent his anger about a pending U.S. free-trade pact that has sparked weeks of Indian protests.
While hundreds of Indians blockaded roads in demonstrations against the free-trade deal last month, Ron, a former graffiti artist, has been painting slogans to poke fun at what he believes is his country’s dangerous flirtation with globalization.
Working late at night, Ron has sprayed the walls of Ecuador’s capital with more than 300 messages — some poetic, others blunt — as part of his solo effort to halt the trade deal.
An award-winning writer, Ron’s messages have captured attention with phrases such as "Time for Peasants Tears" and "Your Freedom will be castrated."
"I see it as necessary to connect your art with your protest," the soft-spoken short-story writer told Reuters recently. "This country will lose its soul if it signs the trade deal."
Ron’s graffiti quest reflects the sharp divisions in Ecuador over the benefits of signing a free-trade deal with the United States. A recent poll showed 50 percent of Ecuadoreans opposed the pact while 35 percent support it.
Indian peasants, who are among of poorest in a country where nearly half of the population of 13 million live in poverty, fear they will not be able to compete with cheap American farm products should the government go ahead with the trade deal.
Ron says he sympathizes with the Indians’ plight and argues a trade pact will only strengthen U.S. dominance in his country and further disrupt Ecuador’s ancestral culture.
Ecuador and the United States this week temporarily suspended the final round of free-trade negotiations in Washington on Monday after a deadlock in talks.
MORE DEMONSTRATIONS POSSIBLE
Weeks before the talks began they had already spurred thousands of Indians to build burning barricades and block highways to demand the government abandon the trade pact.
Ecuadorean President Alfredo Palacio has vowed to continue negotiations and backed an advertising campaign meant to reassure the public that he will not sign a deal that is unfair to the country’s interests.
Indians leaders have threatened to resume demonstration in April, a move that could further disrupt Ecuador’s political stability before October’s presidential election.
Ron, 38, who won the 2004 National Literature Award from the Ecuadorean city of Guayaquil with his book "Aerosol Stories," says he returned to his graffiti artist roots to raise awareness among Quito’s apathetic middle and upper classes.
On a recent night, Ron, clad in a black leather jacket, scanned a street corner to make sure no police or security guards were about, chose the perfect bare wall and went to work.
"It will take just 10 seconds," he said. "This is my game, my beautiful protest."
Ron’s graffiti is recognized for its wit. He employed the Spanish acronym for the trade pact, TLC, to write "To kill Latin Countries."
In his many years of spray painting, Ron says angry security guards have fired warning shots into the air and pointed their guns at him. But he says he has never been arrested or hurt during his ritual graffiti outings.
"This is such a turning point at our country’s history that I felt I had to do something about it," he said. "But any act of rebellion needs to have a touch of beauty."