Increase in Violence
and AIDS as an outcome of mass migration
For illegal aliens life in the North is
not all milk and honey. Even for those who make it without
being caught and deported, things often do not turn out
as hoped, either in economic or human terms. Living in
constant fear of being caught and deported can be traumatic
and humiliating. In order to secure and keep a job in
such a vulnerable status the migrant must learn to swallow
his pride and suppress his feelings when subjected to
racial prejudice, unfair treatment, humiliation, and deplorable
working conditions. Frequently this leads the migrant
to embitterment, misdirected anger, and heavy drinking.
He often tends to develop a more hostile or aggressive
Despite good intentions, many men who migrate
north never send back money to their wives and families.
Others never return. Some remarry, sometimes to a US citizen
in order to become a legal resident.
A common pattern for the men separated from
their wives through migration is to have a sequence of
affairs with prostitutes or other women (or men). The
health consequences can be far-reaching and sometimes
Wives and families who stay home.
We have spoken of the hardships of women who migrate North.
But also many of the wives left behind are subjected to
cruelty and sexual exploitation. When a husband is absent,
his wife and children typically stay with his parents.
The lone woman is considered fair game for neighbors and
relatives. Sometimes her courtiers make an effort to seduce
her. Sometimes they simply violate her. Then they often
use her "infidelity" as a bribe for further favors or
to extort from her money sent by her husband. If she gets
pregnant and even if not the soiled woman tends to become
a social outcast, ridiculed and shamed in the community.
And if her husband returns, her infidelity�real or suspected�is
even more severely paid for.
In districts of high migration, the incidence
of violence to women has escalated into a major health
problem. Even the children of women left behind are subject
to sexual exploitation. Premature pregnancy in such children
in one community (Gualaceo) reached 28%.
HIV/AIDS. A consequence of the high
rate of migration, whereby men separated from their wives
tend to "play around" with other women, has been the growing
spread of HIV and AIDS. In one presentation at the Forum,
two doctors told the heart-rending story of a mother whose
husband had migrated to the US. He sent back no money,
and his wife struggled to keep her 3 children fed and
healthy. When at last her husband returned he brought
no money. Although he had been gentle to her before, now
he was cruel and arrogant with her and took no interest
in the children. In time the couple divorced. But even
then, when drunk, the ex-husband would come and force
the woman to have sex.
In time the woman's health began to fail.
She had splitting headaches, and sought help at the University
Hospital in Cuenca. Doctors performed tests, suspecting
everything from depression to tubercular meningitis. Eventually
they diagnosed an opportune fungal infection (Cryptocytosis).
A test for AIDS proved positive. As the poor woman approached
death, her biggest concern was for her children. She worried
they might suffer and die, not from AIDS, but from abandonment
BLACK GOLD! Damage to environment and
health caused by oil companies drilling in the Amazonian
At the Cuenca Forum a report was given by
Dr. Jose Pozo on "Oil and Health in Amazonia.� The Quechua
Indian term for crude oil is Yana Curi, or Black Gold.
For 20 years tribal peoples in the Amazonian rain forests
of eastern Ecuador have been protesting the damage to
their habitat and their health caused by the environmentally
reckless extraction of oil by Texaco and other transnational
oil companies. In spite of protests by the Indians together
with environmental and human rights groups in Ecuador
and beyond, the oil companies have done very little to
make amends. In 1991 the book "Crudo Amaz�nico" by Judith
Kimerling documented the extent of the harm. In 1993,
30,000 tribal people sued Texaco for irreparable environmental
damage. They have subsequently brought claims for health
damages, with demands that Texaco clean up the contamination
it has caused.
But to date the courts have not sustained
the charges. Texaco, backed by the Ecuadorean government,
has said there is insufficient evidence that contamination
by crude oil has harmed people's health.
For this reason, in 1997 the Frente de Defensa
de la Amazon�a and a team of local health workers conducted
an epidemiological study�in collaboration with the London
School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The study, which
covered 9 oil contaminated communities and 14 non-contaminated
communities, produced strong evidence of ill health caused
by crude oil:
Study Results: Contamination by Crude
-- River water (used for drinking) in the
contaminated area had levels of toxic hydrocarbons up
to 100 times the legal limit in European countries.
-- People in contaminated villages had more
skin infections, nose, throat and eye irritations, earaches,
headaches, diarrhea and gastritis than those in non-contaminated
-- Risk of miscarriage was 2.5 times higher
in the contaminated communities.
-- Risk of cancer was 2.3 times higher in
contaminated as in non-contaminated villages. Increased
risk of stomach, larynx, and liver cancer was especially
evident in men.
From this study, the Amazonian Defense Front
concludes that "To avoid the occurrence of situations
like this and to assure that development projects promote
health rather than harm it:
-- the government should legislate new environmental
standards and institutions with power to control the petroleum
industry, to eliminate hazards to health or environment,
and hold the industry responsible for any harm they might
-- studies are needed that consider the
impact on health (not just environment) and that integrate
measurements of environmental risk and health, with
adequate community participation.
However, getting the Ecuadorean government
to tighten regulations on the oil industry will be an
uphill battle. Oil export is the government's main source
of funds to service its huge foreign debt. To boost such
payments, the World Bank is now pressuring Ecuador to
raise the price of gas by 40%. This will push up prices
of other basics, increase inflation, and make it even
harder for poor Ecuadoreans to feed their children.
Conclusion: Forging a Fairer World
The presentations at the Cuenca Forum provided
testimony by diverse persons and communities who have
suffered everything from hunger to sexual assault to AIDS,
as result of a widening income gap and deepening poverty.
These inequities are aggravated by global decision makers
and transnational corporations that put profit before
The Forum concluded that there is urgent
need for a united effort--both within Ecuador and among
concerned people and groups around the world--to protest
the current unhealthy and inequitable policies of the
global market economy. Together we must forge an alternative
model of economic and social development that promotes
equitable and sustainable Health for All.
The forging of a plan of action to achieve
a healthier, fairer, more democratic, ecologically balanced
society will be the goal of the People's Health Assembly
in Bangladesh (see page 7). To this end, the Regional
Forum in Cuenca was a groundbreaking preparatory event.
End of Document