Ecuador’s paraplegic presidential candidate stirs hope for disabled

Lenin Moreno, right, presidential candidate from the ruling PAIS Alliance party, greets a supporter during a campaign rally along the streets in Babahoyo, Ecuador. (Reuters)
Updated 19 February 2017
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Ecuador’s paraplegic presidential candidate stirs hope for disabled

QUITO: An aide wheels out Ecuador’s presidential candidate Lenin Moreno, who lost the use of his legs two decades ago, to a stage in a working-class area of the mountainous capital Quito.
Behind him, a woman rapidly translates into sign language his promises of benefits for single mothers and retirees. Rows of wheelchair-bound supporters around the podium cheer on the leftist politician.
Moreno, 63, became paraplegic after being shot in the back during a robbery in 1998. He has put disability at the center of his campaign to be elected president of the poor Andean country on Sunday.
The former vice president and UN envoy on disability has vowed to further boost jobs and social benefits for disabled Ecuadoreans.
If he wins, he would be a rare wheelchair-bound head of state and one of the highest-profile disabled leaders since former US President Franklin Roosevelt, who had to use a wheelchair because of polio and died in 1945.
During Moreno’s 2007-2013 tenure as vice president, he helped build a database of disabled people so that they could receive medical treatment tailored to their needs, provided a monthly stipend of $240 for families who take care of a disabled relative, and created a loan program for disabled entrepreneurs in the country of 16 million.
For Ecuador’s estimated 400,000 people with physical, mental, auditive, or visual disabilities, Moreno is nothing short of a hero.
“He opened the door for us and he keeps opening doors for us,” said Gina Ruiz, a 52-year-old supporter who attended Moreno’s closing rally in southern Quito on Wednesday night.
Ruiz was forced to retire from her job as a teacher because polio eventually left her unable to walk. But thanks to a loan for disabled people, she opened a taxi company that now employs 20 people.
“Now the rest of my compatriots will have these opportunities too,” said Ruiz, beaming from her wheelchair as music and fireworks filled the air and Moreno was whisked away into a car after his speech.
Born in the Ecuadorean Amazon to left-wing teachers, Moreno had a long and difficult recovery process after thieves attacked him while he was out with his wife buying bread. He then chose to “continue living,” according to an official biography, and went on to write a half-dozen motivational books, including one called “Laugh, Don’t be Illinois.”
“I extend this dark hand, tanned by the sun, a little calloused because of these wheels, but sincere and honest,” Moreno told a crowd of supporters on Thursday.
Moreno’s opponents avoid criticizing his popular pro-disability projects or voicing potential concerns about his health.
But the main opposition candidate, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso, warns Moreno’s promises are untenable in the midst of a recession, low oil prices and high debt. Opponents also criticized the government for paying Moreno’s expenses during his time at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Mr. Moreno is a man with no leadership, no personal initiative, no knowledge of the economy, who pretends to fool Ecuadoreans with his soft voice,” Lasso said in an interview in his hot and humid coastal hometown of Guayaquil this week.
Polls suggest Moreno will edge out Lasso in Sunday’s vote, but he may not pocket enough votes to avoid an April runoff.
Much of the middle class in this country that exports oil, shrimp, bananas and flowers feel their own opportunities have shrunk during a decade-long leftist rule that has put emphasis on the poor.
“Disabled people have rights, but they are not the only ones,” said physiotherapist Christopher Aulestia, 25, who attended a rally to support Lasso in Guayaquil on Thursday.
“The middle class has been affected by so many taxes, it is difficult for us to contribute the way we used to,” he said, adding that he also doubted Moreno would follow through on his promises.
In the meantime, Moreno can bank on a 2013 policy that allows nearly 900 disabled and elderly people to vote from home.
“This is wonderful. It is mutual help, I am very happy,” said 85-year-old Laura Vasquez, who cannot walk and had not voted in seven years, speaking from her bed below a painting of Jesus Christ after casting her vote on Friday.


Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft takes part in a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to serve as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
Trump said in a pair of tweets that Craft “has done an outstanding job representing our Nation” and he has “no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level.”
Two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters had told The Associated Press that Trump had been advised that Craft’s confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he had been considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had backed Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, the people said. Trump’s first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly under President George W. Bush’s administration. She is also friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her “longtime friendship and support” at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As US ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump had also considered US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position, given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert’s formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the UN job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert’s nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process. Nauert cited family considerations in withdrawing from the post.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo had been keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in UN diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Trump has demoted the UN position to sub-Cabinet rank, in a move backed by both Bolton and Pompeo, according to three other officials. Grenell had suggested he wasn’t interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration’s first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as UN ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Craft was appointed ambassador to Canada because of her financial contributions to the Trump campaign, but said that’s not unusual as past ambassadors have also contributed to presidents who have appointed them.
“I think Ottawa has regarded Craft as a light weight, partly because of her background and partly because the sense is that Trump, unlike his predecessors, doesn’t listen to his ambassadors or care what they think,” Wiseman said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.