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Thread: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

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    UK Avalon Founder Bill Ryan's Avatar
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    Default How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    Some may know that I have a vested interest in this interesting issue, and have posted elsewhere that (in theory! Though my footprint is very light) I'm a part of this problem myself. I'm 100% legally and formally a resident in Ecuador. But ethically and morally, I'm not convinced I have any right to be here.

    ~~~
    Do expats contribute to inequality in Cuenca, Ecuador, and other Latin American expat communities?
    Feb 18, 2019

    When Ana Jane turned 60, she decided she wanted “a complete life change.” Approaching retirement, she was suddenly laid off from her job as an interior decorator in early 2009, during the peak of the financial crisis. Having endured cancer, job loss and an addiction problem, she was hoping to turn her life around. But the opportunities to do so in her home city of Houston, Texas, were limited.

    “I don’t think I can live in Houston for what I had as far as monthly income,” she said. “I wanted out of the States.” So she left.

    Over the last decade, thousands of Americans, most of them white, have left the United States to settle in communities in Latin America, where the cost of living is lower. International “lifestyle marketers,” such as International Living, with ties to real estate investors and developers in select destinations, often promote these communities online.


    The new tram is one of the projects transforming Cuenca’s El Centro.


    Ana Jane chose to live in Cuenca, Ecuador, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage city of 600,000 people located high up in the Ecuadorian Andes, and where the average monthly household income is about $700, well below what most retirees say they live on in the U.S. About a third of Cuenca’s population work in the informal sector, where even the basic salary of $394 per month is not guaranteed. Though there are no official statistics keeping tab on how many North Americans have relocated there, municipal officials estimate as many as 10,000 since the 2008 crisis.

    Many of these expats have fled diminishing returns in the U.S., but often, that’s not the sole reason for relocation. Elise, 66, moved to Ecuador with her husband in 2011. “We knew that we were getting up in age, and that if we wanted to do something adventurous, we had to do it then.”

    Cuenca is not the only community in Latin America to receive “lifestyle” and retirement migrants from Canada and the United States. In recent years, international lifestyle marketers have drawn attention to low-income communities in Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama as well. In some places, tens of thousands of North Americans — far more in numbers than the Central Americans in the “migrant caravans” coming to the United States — are relocating for a mix of lifestyle ideals, climate and lower cost-of-living.

    Since 2011, I have documented the lives of people moving to Cuenca from Canada and the United States. I have spoken with them about their reasons for moving, their impressions of Ecuador and their aspirations for the future. I have also documented their impact on receiving communities in Ecuador.


    The renovated San Francisco Plaza opened last month.


    Americans said they hoped their impact on Cuenca was a good one, and they participated in charities and provided extra help to their domestic employees — which they could afford because of the lower cost of living. But they also participated in gentrification processes, raising prices of rent and real estate.

    Nowhere is this more evident than in the historic El Centro neighborhood, where the city government is renovating plazas and streetscapes with the aim of increasing real estate values and attracting higher-income tourists and lifestyle migrants. The active social lives and shopping habits of American and Canadian retirees has helped support new boutique business and craft producers, replacing “mom-and-pop” shops in central neighborhoods. Cuenca’s UNESCO-designated downtown increasingly caters to transnationally mobile, global middle classes.

    Jorge is a clothing vendor who worked 29 years at Plaza San Francisco, located in the heart of Cuenca’s historic center. But the city removed his stall, along with those of 133 other vendors, to make way for renovations that would reduce vending space, and open the plaza for cultural events and craft fairs.

    For him, El Centro was his community, the place that he worked. Since being moved to a temporary stall off the square, he said he was lucky if he could sell one or two $10 items per day. Like many other lower-income workers, he hoped to give his children a better life, and measured success by what his labor was about to bring home. “We have to maintain our families,” he said. To make ends meet, he and many of his colleagues had to work longer, find other jobs and reduce their expenses.


    A Cuencana shop owner.


    “The whole city is changing, and we have to change, too,” he said. “I am not young. I am used to this work.” Vendors’ livelihoods have been affected by the growth of middle-class malls and the decline of lower-income workers in El Centro as it becomes a leisure space for global middle classes.

    Another clothing vendor, Dolores, was fighting for her right to work and to remain in place. She said that the mayor now wanted the plaza so North American retirees could stroll on it. Dolores, however, does not have a retirement to look forward to. “I have no pension,” she said. “I will continue to work until God decides I will work no more.”

    Jorge, too, knows that the changes he faces are partly due to the arrival of wealthier North Americans. Everything is getting expensive now, he said, but he doesn’t harbor any great resentment against the retirees. “If there were a job in the United States, I would move there,” he said.

    Jorge said before he dies, he would also like to see things he had never seen before. He mentioned Vilcabamba, a vacation town four hours south, which he had heard a lot about but had never been to.

    While Jorge’s colleagues try to work their way back into the heart of the city they have fostered for generations, lifestyle migrants like Ana Jane and Elise are “discovering” Vilcabamba and other rural areas near Cuenca — with help from internet search engines and international lifestyle marketers.

    North Americans have bought land and built luxury retirement houses for what, to them, are affordable prices. They have transformed rural landscapes. There, as in Cuenca, they have increasingly pushed people off the land, and into lives where they must work more, longer and often at lower pay to make ends meet.

    Lifestyle migration to Cuenca provides a window into the type of global society that is taking shape after a generation of economic globalization. It is tempting to blame lifestyle migrants for being greedy or rapacious. But the truth is more complex, and reveals global inequalities inherited from a colonial past.

    These shape all our lives no matter where we live. At this moment in history, however, failure to address them in any systematic way produces localized forms of global inequality, gentrification and dispossession, as transnationally mobile global middle classes rub shoulders with street vendors in the tourism cities of Latin America.

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    I find it hard to believe Bill is part of any problem, but then again, I don't think I fully understand the inequality issue. Sounds like Bill just gets lumped in with greedy people, who are the real problem.

    If Ecuador is home, it's home. If anyone thinks Bill doesn't have a right to live in his home... them's fightin' words, imo.

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    We could look at the impact of different communities migrating in our cities and towns as well. It is much more than 10% of the population that are migrants here. But no, we never talk about it. Abd they are moving here either for economic reasons or religious ones. Rarely are they true refugees.

    Don’t feel bad Bill, it is the same all over the world.

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    change is the only constant, trying to hold onto the past will always cause pain.
    Hard times create strong men, Strong men create good times, Good times create weak men, Weak men create hard times.
    Where are you?

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    Quote Posted by petra (here)
    I find it hard to believe Bill is part of any problem, but then again, I don't think I fully understand the inequality issue. Sounds like Bill just gets lumped in with greedy people, who are the real problem.

    If Ecuador is home, it's home. If anyone thinks Bill doesn't have a right to live in his home... them's fightin' words, imo.

    We all love Bill, but you can't just separate him from this, even though I know he lives out in the boonies and is not part of that Cuenca wave of emigres. It's a bit disingenuous to say that he's detached from this whole thing. He's an anglo, he's got a lot more money (I assume) than the locals, and he moved there for convenience and economic savings. Not so different, eh?

    The government could put limits on this but I'm sure they're benefiting from this, as they always do. I'd feel the same way if I saw my home being changed to benefit a small but growing population of emigrants. It's human nature, territorial.

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    This has as much to do do with the government as it does with expats. I kind of doubt that many of them are demanding trendy shops. I'll bet many of them would prefer the traditional vendors. This is about money and bringing in revenue for the government. It seems the government doesn't have a lot of concern for the average working guy/gal in these cities. Why not promote the trendy shops elsewhere? Why oust 133 vendors out into the street with no recourse?

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    if you want to explore this entire subject, check out the hobo traveler on youtube; he's been on the road for almost 20 years, living cheaply everywhere from Africa to S America to Eastern Europe

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    Although expat may disturb the quiet lifestyle of Ecuadorian people, being displaced by richer people from elsewhere, once again, it is the same worlwide.

    Born middle class Canadians cannot buy a house in Vancouver, the whole market has been inondated by rich Chinese. Canadians are being displaced.

    Half of Toronto is NOT born in Canada. Canadians are displaced. And cannot afford the cost of living there.

    The only remaining large city still affordable was Montreal and near suburb. Well, Chinese have overwhelmingly bought Brossard right across the bridge from downtown. This was a middle class neighborhood. No more, housing is getting unaffordable.

    In Montreal itself, there are whole arabs neighborhoods where I would not feel comfortable, there are Chinese developments where we, Canadians, are not welcome (one friend sold her condominium because the whole building was Chinese and they would not accept to have the condo owners meetings in French or in English, contravening the Quebec language law).

    And downtown Montreal lots of condos are bought for investments, nobody living in them, but increasing the housing market to an unaffordable level. Rents are becoming untenable too.

    This is happening all over. We are displaced and in turn we displace others

    The problem and solutions are elsewhere probably within the capitalist thinking, the social responsibilities thinking and the impetus towards world dominance of the PTB.
    Last edited by Flash; 24th February 2019 at 20:56.

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    That is the price you pay for so called progress.
    Last edited by Rosemarie; 26th February 2019 at 05:18.
    "Be kind for everybody is fighting a great battle" Plato

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    Oh Lord, Bill. Tell me about it! I live a stone's throw from Vancouver where mainland Chinese have decided to park their money in real estate and make ocassional visits, thus turning entire neighbourhoods into ghost towns.

    They don't rent out their homes, preferring, I guess, to force former residents out to the hinterlands. A modest bungalow sells for over 2 million. It's insane. And because Canadians are so politically correct, they have been cowed by crooked politicians to accept the explanation that their misgivings about it all must be "racist."

    Things are slowly turning around as nearly all former residents, be they of conservative or liberal bent, voted in a truly socialist party, just to deal with the problem. And boy, are they dealing with it.

    They recently found, through the provincial attorney general and the rcmp that billions in drug money has been laundered thyrough real estate while our fentanyl crisis hits epic proportions. Four thousand deaths in Canada last year alone.

    Anyway, I could go on and on. In Canada's case the naïveté of the citizens combined with corruption of government, on many levels, created the perfect Petrie dish for a toxin to thrive.

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    Quote Posted by Flash (here)
    Although expat may disturb the quiet lifestyle of Ecuadorian people, being displaced by richer people from elsewhere, once again, it is the same worlwide.

    Born middle class Canadians cannot buy a house in Vancouver, the whole market has been inondated by rich Chinese. Canadians are being displaced.

    Half of Toronto is NOT born in Canada. Canadians are displaced. And cannot afford the cost of living there.

    The only remaining large city still affordable was Montreal and near suburb. Well, Chinese have overwhelmingly bought Brossard right across the bridge from downtown. This was a middle class neighborhood. No more, housing is getting unaffordable.

    In Montreal itself, there are whole arabs neighborhoods where I would not feel comfortable, there are Chinese developments where we, Canadians, are not welcome (one friend sold her condominium because the whole building was Chinese and they would not accept to have the condo owners meetings in French or in English, contravening the Quebec language law).

    And downtown Montreal lots of condos are bought for investments, nobody living in them, but increasing the housing market to an unaffordable level. Rents are becoming untenable too.

    This is happening all over. We are displaced and in turn we displace others

    The problem and solutions are elsewhere probably within the capitalist thinking, the social responsibilities thinking and the impetus towards world dominance of the PTB.
    Ahh Flash, am sorry to hear you are suffering the same affliction. Govts have to get a handle on this or they will be voted out of office.

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    Quote Posted by Bill Ryan (here)
    Some may know that I have a vested interest in this interesting issue, and have posted elsewhere that (in theory! Though my footprint is very light) I'm a part of this problem myself. I'm 100% legally and formally a resident in Ecuador. But ethically and morally, I'm not convinced I have any right to be here.
    The philosophical underpinnings of "rights" are interesting. I don't know where you fall on the issue, but people usually fall into one of two camps:
    1. People are inherently entitled to certain rights, granted by God, or nature, however you prefer.
    2. People inherently have NO rights; rights are social constructs and are granted by governments and other bodies of authority.

    Then you could also have a combination of, say, a nation's self-asserted right to control its borders/territory, versus a God-given right to life, self-defense, etc...

    I think it's natural and healthy that nations with representative governments have control over who they choose to allow or not allow into their communities. But in this case, if the Central and South American governments are the relevant authorities, and they are allowing this immigration to occur legally, and in effect inviting it, then I don't see how much of a case for being unethical or immoral could be made just for expatriating. Maybe for not integrating, and making the locals sore, but not necessarily just for the act of legal immigration in itself.

    That said, the healthiest and happiest societies seem to consist of the most like-minded and culturally similar people. Diversifying communities with multiple cultures, values systems, etc. tends to encourage various degrees of conflict, and this is a pattern that repeats itself throughout history and as much as it does today. "Diversity is our strength" is a slogan straight out of Orwell.

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    Default Re: How self-interested expats disrupt traditional communities in Central and South America

    Quote Posted by petra (here)
    I find it hard to believe Bill is part of any problem, but then again, I don't think I fully understand the inequality issue. Sounds like Bill just gets lumped in with greedy people, who are the real problem.

    If Ecuador is home, it's home. If anyone thinks Bill doesn't have a right to live in his home... them's fightin' words, imo.
    That would be equal to suggesting that all white's are racist, or support slavery.. Or that one entire species is inherently EVIL because of the actions of a few.

    I think there will always be issues with people making blanket assessments based upon numbers, never taking into account the PEOPLE they're discussing at all. I am fairly certain that there are plenty LOCALS, that are NOT from America, or Canada, that are up to their necks in greed, and causing damage to their local area.

    Sadly however, a great number of people move to an area, because they find it charming and different, and then they "want to be helpful", (Another phrase for missing a comfort they once enjoyed)... and they then turn around and recreate what they just left.

    I DOUBT Bill would ever do such a thing..

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