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For the week of Mar. 8 through Mar. 14, 2000

Local couple survive Ecuador coup

Express Staff Writer

Dr. Stephen and Marylyn Pauley with an Ecuadorian family(photo courtesy Pauley family)

Dr. Stephen and Marylyn Pauley knew they could be in for a rough trip.

On a January work trip to Ecuador with a charitable group called Operacion Esperanza, the Sun Valley couple encountered a native uprising that blocked roads and took over the country’s congress and supreme court in the capital city of Quito.

The Pauleys and their group were there to help perform charitable surgeries for poor Ecuadorian citizens. Seven million of Ecuador’s 12.4 million people, including a large number of Indians, live in poverty.

"I knew we could run into trouble," Stephen Pauley said in an interview two weeks ago.

At the core of the problem is the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

Imagine the U.S. dollar is suddenly worth 10 cents, Stephen Pauley said to illustrate the point.

At the end of weeklong protests, Vice President Gustavo Noboa was voted president of Ecuador by the country’s congress on Jan. 23, after President Jamil Mahuad was forced out of office in response to Indian protests and threats by a faction of the military.

Ecuador has had six presidents since 1996.

On their first night in the South American Third World, the Pauleys traveled from Quito to the town of Riobamba, where they would set up their surgical center with their group of Esperanza volunteers.

At midnight, on a remote stretch of road along the spine of the Andes, the Pauleys and a group of U.S. citizens encountered a burning mass of felled logs across the road, as well as a group of Indian protestors. It was the first of several roadblocks the group encountered on their trip.

An Ecuadorian soldier who was with the group, however, told those who blocked the road that the North Americans were in the foreign land to help with medical problems for the poor, and the group of renegade roadblockers cleared the road.

"They worked very hard" to get the road cleared, Marylyn said in an interview two weeks ago.

The Pauleys encountered that first roadblock a week before the coup took place.

Upon returning to the United States, Stephen Pauley wrote in a journal, "Joe (Dr. Joseph Clawson), our fearless leader, somehow managed to pull Esperanza 2000 through road blocks, demonstrations, and continued uncertainty. He does it by sheer willpower, believing our mission is far more important than the mere overthrow of the country’s government by tens of thousands of indigenous protesters from all over Ecuador.

"Perhaps the topper for this year’s exciting trip was the two active volcanoes, one only a few miles from our hospital in Riobamba."

"These people are the poorest of the poor," Stephen Pauley said. "They have nothing. I was amazed that they could organize to do what they did."

On Jan. 22, 15,000 protesters marched through the center of Riobamba, an experience Marylyn Pauley said was "very moving."

"It was peaceful. We didn’t feel any animosity that day toward Americans," she said. "They kept it among their own people."

The Pauleys’ only worry was that if the military had taken control of the country, the couple might not have been able to leave for a while.

The coup didn’t settle as well with other members of the Pauleys’ group.

"Many of the group had never traveled outside the country," Stephen Pauley said. "For a lot of these folks, it was a real trauma."

The Pauleys and their group performed 64 operations in seven days.

"There are always more patients than we can do in any one visit," Marylyn Pauley said.

Stephen Pauley was one of three surgeons on the trip who were working to correct cleft lips, a condition where an upper lip is split in two, and palate holes, a condition where a hole forms in the roof of one’s mouth.

Those conditions are higher in Ecuador because of family interbreeding, the doctor said.

His wife’s job on the trip was one of translator and liaison. She communicated between the hospital administration, patients and the surgeons.

"You’re the problem solver," he jibbed at his wife during the interview.

Ecuador has the medical facilities available to take care of the young, he explained, but they don’t care for the poor.

"It was definitely an interesting time to be there," she said.

"It certainly was an unusual trip," he agreed.

Operacion Esperanza is a nonprofit, tax-exempt foundation in which its volunteers travel to Third World countries each year to do facial plastic surgery for the poor. For information, call Dr. Joseph Clawson at (360) 425-2308.


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