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Lenín Moreno Garcés: Advancing Disability Rights

Lenín Moreno Garcés

This article is part of the Heroes of Social Inclusion series from the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly. View the full list of heroes here.

Until recently, people with disabilities in Ecuador faced a life of complete abandonment and exclusion. Our society disgracefully hid them, trying to make them invisible. Some cases were exceptionally shameful, with people living in dark corners, caves, even burrows. Often many of these people lived in extreme poverty.

Shockingly, Ecuador only became aware of these conditions when the Misión Manuela Espejo—a program I launched as the Vice President—initiated a study to discover how many people with disabilities there were in the country in order to provide them with comprehensive assistance.

Vice President Lenin Moreno Garcés in his office on March 1, 2012. (Ivan Kashinsky/Aurora Select)

When I was injured in 1998 as the victim of crime, I joined the ranks of Ecuador’s population with disabilities. The attack left me paralyzed, without use of my legs. A lawyer by training, I dedicated my life at that point to advocating for the recognition and rights of those with disabilities, and was elected Vice President with President Rafael Correa in 2006.

Upon reaching office, we decided to look after the most forgotten among its our country’s forgotten, vulnerable and unprotected population. On May 23, 2007, the Ecuador sin Barreras (Ecuador without Borders) program became state policy, in adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in December 2006. The rights and state commitments contained in the policy were later included in the constitution of 2008.

From this policy, two historic programs were thus born: Manuela Espejo and Joaquín Gallegos Lara. Manuela Espejo was a research phase, carried out from 2009 to 2011, to investigate the causes and incidence of people living with disability in Ecuador, and to document their needs. A response phase followed, in which the mission delivered technical assistance in the form of wheelchairs, cushions, canes, diapers, etc., as well as housing assistance, to people with disabilities, and brought together 14 ministries and institutions to sign an agreement with the Vice-Presidency’s office to develop policies for people with disabilities. The Joaquín Gallegos Lara program was an extension of this response phase. The program provides $240 in economic assistance and a life insurance policy to caregivers of persons with disabilities. It also offers persons with disabilities training in health, hygiene, therapy, nutrition, and disability rights, and guaranteed social security. By the end of 2011, 130,254 people had received assistance from Manuela Espejo. The housing program alone spurred the construction of 4,400 homes between 2010 and 2011, and this year, the Manuela Espejo Mission began the process of providing 6,000 homes and monitoring the 14,479 beneficiaries of the Joaquín Gallegos Lara program.

We have taken enormous steps in Ecuador, but much work remains. Our goal is for no disabled person to be denied comprehensive attention. The mission’s methods and work for people with disabilities is not the property of any single country, but rather a model that can be replicated in other countries. We have received support at the beginning from our Cuban and Venezuelan brothers, and we are now helping our brothers in countries such as Guatemala, Uruguay, Chile, and Panama.

Solidarity—not as charity, but rather as the recognition of others as equals—is the basic pillar for initiating social inclusion. We political actors are temporary; we can, at best, give these great processes a push forward, but the true protagonists of these changes are society, people with disabilities and their families. The efforts of all these actors have allowed Ecuador to leave behind the years of exclusion and marginalization to which disabled people were subjected, and to integrate them now into work, education, culture, the arts, and sports.

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