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News World News Ecuador Ecuador's LeníN Moreno Gives Revolutionary Turn By Quitting While on Top


Science & Tech  (tags: ethics, government, interesting, politics, world, study, research, science, scientists, society, investigation, humans, discovery, concept )

JL
- 551 days ago - guardian.co.uk
World's only paraplegic head of state eschews high office to focus on link between quantum physics and human values



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JL A. (275)
Friday February 22, 2013, 9:22 am

Ecuador's Lenín Moreno gives revolutionary turn by quitting while on top

World's only paraplegic head of state eschews high office to focus on link between quantum physics and human values

Jonathan Watts in Quito
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 February 2013 11.45 EST

lenin moreno
Lenín Moreno, who was acting president of Ecuador while Rafael Correa ran for re-election, says he wants to quit the political stage and concentrate on social issues. Photograph: Sandra Ten Zijthoff/Demotix/Corbis

As the world's only paraplegic head of state, he may just be the planet's most powerful wheelchair-using man. But the outgoing vice-president – and acting president – of Ecuador says he is more interested in humour, equality, health and ecology than the trappings of high office.

That may be a common refrain from faux-humble politicians the world over, but Lenín Moreno is about to prove it by stepping down despite the near certainty that he would win again if he stood for re-election.

It will be a loss for global efforts to improve the rights and wellbeing of disabled people – something that rarely gains much prominence on the development agenda.

The 59-year-old politician and author has been the most visible champion of this issue in Latin America since he stood as Rafael Correa's running mate in 2006. For the past month, he has been acting president while his boss ran for re-election.

"Here you see me on the verge of exiting office. I'm happy," he said in an interview at the Carondelet presidential palace, where he receives visiting dignitaries, ministers, disabled people and the odd foreign journalist. "I don't enjoy being president. I don't like power. I like to be subordinate. I like to feel dominated like I am at home by my wife and three daughters."

It is partly his personal philosophy, partly a joke. Others suggest there is more to his resignation. Some say he is retiring because of health problems, or because he has grown distant from Correa. There is even speculation that Moreno is planning to run for president in 2017.

He raises his eyebrows at the thought. "Power comes with a stroke of fortune and you should quickly leave it behind. But while you are in that space, you must take advantage of it to realise your dearest ambition. For me, that was to promote the rights of the disabled."

This is unusual in any country, particularly a developing nation. The World Health Organisation only issued its first global report on disability in 2011.

It said there were 1 billion disabled people in the world and their exclusion was holding back development. Yet there is no mention of disability in the UN millennium goals and few politicians have pushed strongly on the issue.

Last year, Moreno was nominated for the Nobel peace prize for the transformation he has brought about in Ecuador. Under his watch, it has become one of the most progressive nations in Latin America when it comes to providing financial, technical and professional assistance to people with disabilities.

State spending on related fields has increased from $2m a year to $150m (£97m). Tests are carried out on newborns to ensure care is provided early, and all leading employers in Ecuador must earmark at least 4% of their jobs for disabled people.

Government figures note that 197,435 physically disabled people have received treatment, 430,289 have been provided with wheelchairs, special mattresses, canes, diapers or other materials, 17,876 have been given hearing aids, about 4,000 have been provided with prosthetic limbs (now manufactured in Ecuador).

There are also programmes to provide braille texts and computers for visually impaired people.

"I think we are on the right track. But this was not because of me. It was because of the citizens. I just lit the flame and it spread quickly," Moreno said. "But in regard to what we have achieved for disabled people through politics, it is only 20% of the goals I set. We need structural change."

The big shift under way is in attitudes – a revolution in thinking about disability. Families who once kept handicapped relatives hidden owing to shame and inadequate public facilities can now feel more comfortable travelling thanks to increased provision of wheelchairs and ramps – as well as the example set by Moreno, who has shown just how much can be achieved after losing the use of one's legs.

Moreno was born in 1953 in a remote region of the Amazon on the border between Ecuador and Peru. He got his first name from his father, a professor who idolised the Russian revolutionary.

He prospered as a businessman and a public official until 1998, when he was shot in the back by thieves during a shopping mall robbery. This left him paraplegic and, at first, morbidly depressed.

His recovery was aided by laughter – memorising jokes and watching comedies. He has since become a leading advocate of this alternative therapy, which aims to release endorphins that can relieve pain. He has published several books on the subject, including The Theory and Practice of Humour, World's Best Jokes and Laugh, Don't Be Sick!

Believing a love of life is an essential part of well-being, he promoted these ideas through the state soon after winning office.

"I launched a project called Smile Ecuador: We're Nice People. I was certain that kindness is a consequence of good humour. It is important to improve the quality and warmth of human life. It makes us better husbands, better sons, better workers, better bureaucrats and better teachers.

"At the time, many media commentators criticised me. They said, 'How can we be happy if we lack so much?' I told them that maybe we lack a lot because we are not happy and not kind. We were putting the cart before the horse.

"Power makes you lose your smile. At the beginning, I used to smile throughout the year, but now it is 50% of that. Now it seems to me that with my term about to finish, the media commentators who criticised me now recognise the importance of laughter."

Among the projects he will now devote himself to is a book on the connection between quantum physics and human values. Moreno is an admirer of Stephen Hawking and was disappointed that the British physicist was too unwell to attend a recent conference for disabled people in Ecuador.

They had first met six months ago. Moreno said they hit it off and he found Hawking to be an inspiration. "He's the greatest example of the power of a man in a wheelchair," he said. "When he said he couldn't come, I was seriously worried about his health. But I admit a bigger concern was that I won't meet him again. I hope there is still time."

With Moreno's own time in office about to end, commentators have lamented that this will be a loss to Correa, to disabled people and to Ecuador. But Moreno insists otherwise.

"The other day someone asked me how I would like to be remembered. But I said: 'Who wants to be remembered?' True happiness is to be forgotten and to have the chance to start over again."

• Additional research by Eduardo Varas and Marcela Ribadeneira.
 

Micheael Kirkbym (85)
Friday February 22, 2013, 9:52 am
I for one wish him all the best. Go enjoy your retirement from the political meat grinder. If I ever did retire Ecuador would be one of the countries I would definitely consider moving to.
 

JL A. (275)
Friday February 22, 2013, 11:56 am
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.
 

Jaime A. (32)
Saturday February 23, 2013, 12:23 am
Noted.
 

Birgit W. (144)
Saturday February 23, 2013, 2:50 pm
Noted
 

Helen Porter (40)
Saturday February 23, 2013, 3:34 pm
Wpnder what would happen if our politicians did that?

Chaos?

Of course, our politicians seldom stay on top for more than a few sessions; least not as far as I'm concerned.
Corruption is like a spoiled apple in the barrel. It spreads.
 

JL A. (275)
Saturday February 23, 2013, 4:47 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Zee because you have done so within the last week.
 

Julie F. (63)
Saturday February 23, 2013, 4:58 pm
Noted
 
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