56 Scholars | Why is an Ecuadorian politician and alleged human rights offender a visiting scholar at Penn?



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Credit: Brandon Li

Fall 2021 is a time of reflection, as social and economic inequality has only increased in Latin America due to a global pandemic. Nearly two years ago, a wave of mobilizations against massive state cuts to social spending swept across cities in the region. From Colombia to Ecuador and the Southern Cone, Latin American cities became temporary war zones as civil society mobilized to contest the devastating cuts. Police and militaries responded with severe violence and repression.

October 2019 marked a dark period in Ecuador, an Andean country with a population of over 16 million. The country experienced 10 days of extreme conflict in which police forces brutalized Ecuadorian citizens, including members of Indigenous pueblos and nationalities, university students, volunteers, and medical personnel.

During those deadly protests in Ecuador, one state official, Minister of Government María Paula Romo, was in charge of the police and security. In this position, she was the state official authorizing the deadly police response to mobilizers and first responders.

Where is Ms. Romo now? She is a visiting scholar for the fall 2021 semester at the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

As social scientists who have collectively spent decades researching in and about Ecuador, we express our profound distress that Penn has appointed Ms. Romo as a visiting scholar for the semester. After a large campaign by Ecuadorian citizens to rescind the appointment — directly to the Center and on Twitter — as well as a petition from a handful of Penn affiliates, CLALS removed Romo’s public profile but upheld Romo’s position. In other words, Penn legitimized Romo by maintaining an association, hid that they were doing so, provided Romo research opportunities through the use of the University, and used talking points for “free speech” to describe an upper-level state agent who has been allowed to give countless interviews in wide-reaching media sources, far more than most citizens will ever dream of.

The evidence against Ms. Romo is vast and alarming:

  • While presiding over the 2019 deadly police response, Romo permitted the use of expired tear gas (which is more likely to cause health issues), the launching of tear gas at close ranges of protestors, and the bombardment of tear gas in humanitarian zones located at universities in Quito that were receiving and treating injured protestors.
  • A comprehensive Human Rights Watch report also details “excessive force” and “arbitrary deaths and arrests” on the part of her administration. Particularly noteworthy, Human Rights Watch found that elderly people, pregnant women, and children were all victims of police brutality. To write the final report on the incident, the Ecuadorian ombudsman’s office, received 519 testimonies describing the human rights violations that Romo, along with other political leaders like President Lenín Moreno, committed.
  • Ultimately, hundreds of protesters received grave injuries, and 11 people died.
  • Based on her role in the state violence against the mobilizations, Romo was censured and removed from her position as the minister of government.
  • The Ecuadorian Ombudsman’s Office (“Defensoría del Pueblo”) also found her, along with several other government officials, to have allegedly committed crimes against humanity.

We write this guest column today to draw attention to Ms. Romo’s visiting scholar position at Penn. It is even more troubling that the Center seems to be concealing the appointment from the public while maintaining it.

The Director of the Latin American and Latinx Studies Program, professor Tulia Falleti, communicated to us that Penn is unwilling to withdraw the position, even as pressure has mounted from many Ecuadorian citizens. If this is Penn’s decision — with which we strongly disagree — we seek Penn to publicly announce its decision by returning Ms. Romo’s visiting scholar profile to the CLALS website, responding to the Change.org petition signed by more than 10,000 people, and widely circulating any future events with Ms. Romo.

We also ask the University to publicly answer the following:

  1. What is Penn’s policy for awarding visiting scholar positions to politicians? Many universities have policies against awarding such positions to any politicians, including those who have been convicted for crimes against humanity.
  2. Why has CLALS removed Ms. Romo’s web page while maintaining the appointment? All other visiting scholars have them, and events and appointments are publicized.
  3. Why is the CLALS director not responding to a Change.org petition against the appointment with over 10,000 signers?

In sum, as scholars who live in North America, South America, and Europe, and who all study Ecuador, we are disappointed by the decision to award the position to Ms. Romo and even more troubled by Penn and CLALS’ avoidance of transparency and responsibility for their actions by erasing publicly available information about the circumstances of the appointment. 

NICHOLAS LIMERICK is an associate professor of anthropology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College and a 2015 Penn Ph.D. graduate. His email is limerick@tc.columbia.edu. JULIE GAMBLE is assistant professor of urban studies at Trinity College and a former postdoctoral fellow at Penn’s Perry World House. Her email is julie.gamble@trincoll.edu.

In solidarity,

  1. Angus Lyall, Professor of International Relations, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
  2. Anna Wilking, Ph.D., Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology, New York University
  3. Barbara Sorgoni, Ph.D., Professor of Social Anthropology, Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin
  4. Carla Guerrón Montero, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware
  5. Cecilia Mafla Bustamante, Ph.D., Retired Professor of Spanish, Minnesota State University Moorhead
  6. Christopher Krupa, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto (Penn Press author)
  7. Corey Herrmann, Ph.D. Candidate, Yale University Department of Anthropology
  8. Cristina Cielo, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, FLACSO sede Ecuador (Penn undergraduate alumnus)
  9. David Brotherton, Ph.D., Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
  10. Emma Cervone, Ph.D., Associate Director of Latin American Studies, Johns Hopkins University
  11. Emmanuel Blanchard Mora, Faculty Member, Universidad de las Américas Ecuador
  12. Esteban Ponce Ortiz, Ph.D., Investigador, Centro Comunitario Intercultural A Mano Manaba
  13. Federica Morelli, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Latin American History, Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin
  14. Francesco Zanotelli, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, University of Messina 
  15. Fredy Rivera Vélez, Ph.D., Profesor Investigador Titular, Departamento de Estudios Internacionales y Comunicación, FLACSO Sede Ecuador
  16. Gladis Aguirre Vidal, Ph.D., Independent Researcher and Anthropologist, Sweden
  17. Gizella Meneses, Ph.D., Professor of Spanish and Latin American and Latinx Studies, Lake Forest College
  18. Javier González Díez, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Anthropology, Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin
  19. Jean Muteba Rahier, Professor of Anthropology, Florida International University (FIU)
  20. Jennifer N. Collins, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
  21. Jeremy Rayner, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
  22. Jill DeTemple, Ph.D., Professor and Department Chair, Religious Studies, Southern Methodist University
  23. Johannes Waldmüller, Ph.D., Visiting Professor International Politics, University of Vienna
  24. Juliet S. Erazo, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Global and Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University
  25. Karen Silva Torres, Ph.D. candidate, Universität Leipzig, Germany
  26. Karin Friederic, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Wake Forest University
  27. Kathleen S. Fine-Dare, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Gender Studies, NAGPRA Liaison, Fort Lewis College
  28. Kendall King, Ph.D., Professor, University of Minnesota (Penn doctoral alumnus)
  29. Laura Raynolds, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University
  30. Liliana Garcés Gutiérrez, Profesora de Escritura, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar Ecuador
  31. Manuela L. Picq, Loewenstein Fellow, Amherst College, Professor of International Relations, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
  32. María Moreno, Ph.D., Visiting Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, FLACSO – Ecuador
  33. Maricarmen Hernández, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of New Mexico
  34. Mary Weismantel, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Anthropology, Northwestern University
  35. Michael T. Hamerly, Ph.D., Independent Researcher, Editor, Ecuadorian Studies/Estudios Ecuatorianos
  36. Natalia Buitron, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Oxford and Fellow at Jesus College, University of Cambridge
  37. Nataly Guevara, Research Associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  38. Nicholas Rattray, Ph.D., Adjunct Assistant Professor, Indiana University
  39. Nicholas Welcome, Ph.D., Visiting Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, & Public Health, University of Maryland Baltimore County
  40. Norman E. Whitten, Jr., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
  41. Pablo Andrade, Docente, Área Estudios Sociales y Globales, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar
  42. Paola Minoia, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Geography, Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin
  43. Paola Sacchi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin
  44. Pier Paolo Viazzo, Ph.D., Professor of Social Anthropology, Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin
  45. Ricardo Restrepo, Ph.D., Professor, Universidad Técnica de Manabí, Ecuador
  46. Robert Andolina, Ph.D., Associate Professor of International Studies, Seattle University
  47. Rut Roman, Ph.D., Independent Researcher, President, Fundación A Mano Manaba
  48. Sofia Venturoli, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Latin American Anthropology, Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin 
  49. Susan Poats, Ph.D., Anthropologist, Corporación Grupo Randi Randi
  50. Tamara Trownsell, Ph.D., International Relations, Independent Scholar 
  51. Tom Perreault, Professor and Chair, DellPlain Professor of Latin American Geography, Syracuse University
  52. Valeria Coronel, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, FLACSO sede Ecuador
  53. William Waters, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
  54. Yanna Hadatty Mora, Professor, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México





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