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Lenín Voltaire Moreno Garces

Lenin Moreno, won the Ecuadorean presidential election 02 April 2017. Ecuador made history by choosing a prominent disability rights activist as the world’s first head of state elected with open paraplegia. While US President Franklin Roosevelt is perhaps the most well-known elected official with a disability — he used a wheelchair after polio left him largely unable to walk without great effort — his paraplegia was actively downplayed and largely made invisible to the American people.

From 2007 to 2013, Lenín Moreno was Vice-President of Ecuador. Sylvan Hardy notes that within months of leaving office in 2013, Moreno publicly criticized his former boss’s governance style, referring to it as confrontational, mean-spirited, and vindictive. He cited Correa’s fight against the news media and non-profit organizations that opposed his policies. He objected to the president’s habit of “school-yard name-calling” to attack political opponents.

Moreno, who remained a strong supporter of Correa’s social and infrastructure programs and policies, said the president’s temperament harkens back to an era of loud-mouthed Latin American strong men, not forward to a spirit of consensus building Moreno said is necessary to build a modern Ecuador. Moreno also claimed that Correa’s anti-business attitude discourages investment and keeps Ecuador’s economy dependent on revenue from non-renewable resources, especially oil.

A lawyer by profession, Moreno’s term as vice-president took Ecuador’s people with disabilities from being barely regarded as citizens to people receiving housing and economic assistance, including guaranteed social security from their government. Moreno conveys a mature, serene demeanor and a genuine commitment to making a positive difference for his country.

Born in 1953, he is married and has three children. He has published ten books on philosophy and humor, including a book of jokes. He reportedly enjoys painting, swimming, singing, and playing guitar with his wife and three daughters in Quito. Moreno is known as the author of writings with titles such as “Humor in Theory and Practice”, “Being happy is easy and fun,” “The best jokes in the world” and “Laugh, don’t not be sick.”

Born into a middle-class family, Moreno enjoyed a normal and happy childhood. His father Servio Tulio Moreno was a professor, named after Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome was a reformer and builder who supposedly gave the plebeians of Rome the rights of citizenship. Servio Tulio Moreno believed in helping the less privileged sections of the society. As an educator he worked hard to promote integration of the schools in their town so that indigenous children and mestizo children could learn together. Lenin studied at the Instituto Nacional Mejia (Mejia National Institute), in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, before moving on to the Colegio Nacional Sebastian Benalcazar (Sebastian Benalcazar National School).

Later on he went to the Universidad Central del Ecuador (Central University of Ecuador), from where he earned a degree in public administration. He was a good student and had an innate interest in understanding the psychology of human beings. He was also a very principled young man.

Moreno ventured into politics and soon built a reputation for himself in this field as well. During his initial years in the public sector he served in an administrative post with the Minister of Government.

Moreno became a paraplegic in 1998 after two men robbed him in a grocery store parking lot and one of them shot him in the back. For several years he was bedridden and fought depression. Being the resilient soul that he was, he turned to laughter therapy and gradually began to recover from the physical and mental trauma of the shooting.

Clearly familiar with the U.S. from many visits, he noted that his three daughters (ranging in ages from 19 to mid-20's) all have lived there either currently or previously and are very American-oriented. As a person confined to a wheelchair, he particularly admires the U.S. sensitivity and inclusive approach to people with physical challenges, unmatched by any other country.

Moreno remained committed to the social causes with which he had been associated throughout his political career. Moreno had active and positive ties with the grassroots "forajido" movement in Quito, which helped organize the popular uprising that toppled President Palacio after his shift to the right in 2005. Upon assuming office President Correa assigned Moreno responsibility for the National Technical Secretariat for the Development of Human Resources (SENRES), the National Council for Disabilities (CONADIS), the Council for Amazonic Development (CODA), and the Secretariat for Citizen's Solidarity, to which Moreno devotes most of his time.

The Secretariat for Citizen's Solidarity launched three major initiatives under Moreno's guidance: "Ecuador without Barriers" which promotes the social integration of the disabled, "Ecuador without Children in Prisons," which aims at protecting the children of incarcerated individuals and "Smile Ecuador, We are Nice People," which has promotes social cohesion and kindness through public service announcements.

Moreno spearheaded a partnership program with Microsoft which provided information technology training for persons with disabilities and was the driving force behind Ecuadorian adoption of the United Nations Convention on Persons with Disabilities. Ecuador's adoption of the convention allowed it to go into force. USAID had a positive working relationship with Moreno on disability issues. Moreno remained fully committed to a major role in these initiatives.

During the critical hours in an assumed coup attempt 30 September 2010, it was he who appeared on the screen, spoke calmly, and gave people confidence in the public institutions. President Correa himself was captive in a hospital. With his close relationship with the powerful Minister for Internal and External Security Gustavo Larrea, Moreno remained a figure important to watch.

Vice President Lenin Moreno, a paraplegic with a history of health difficulties linked to the shooting accident that crippled him, was hospitalized on 22 April 2008 for a urinary tract infection and remained in intensive care for six days, then remained hospitalized for several more days. Though he returned to his office for the first time on May 5, the press continues to report that he has not resumed a normal work schedule. Moreno remained very popular among the Ecuadorian electorate (as evidenced by the response to the prayer to his health offered at the Israeli National Day celebration on May 7.)

Moreno’s work earned him an appointment as the United Nations Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility in 2013. “We have taken enormous steps in Ecuador, but much work remains,” wrote Moreno for Americas Quarterly in 2012. “Our goal is for no disabled person to be denied comprehensive attention.” In recognition of his achievements, Moreno was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 by members of Ecuador’s National Assembly. He has received a number of awards, including the Grand Cross Grade of the Andean Parliament.

"Solidarity — not as charity, but rather as the recognition of others as equals — is the basic pillar for initiating social inclusion," Moreno wrote in 2012. "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."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Lenín Voltaire Moreno Garces of Ecuador as his Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility on 19 December 2013. He was Chairperson of the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities of the Organization of American States. Moreno is a globally acclaimed advocate for persons with disabilities and inclusive society. Under his leadership as Vice-President, Ecuador greatly advanced social inclusion and the integration of persons with disabilities into national development efforts as well as regional and international cooperation.

In a public address, Correa stated in November 2016 “Lenin is a working machine, with clean hands and a burning heart for this country.” He held a 37 percent lead in polls over right-wing banker Guillermo Lasso from CREO; Cynthia Viteri of PSC; former military member Paco Moncayo from the National Agreement for Change; and Dalo Bucaram from Fuerza Ecuador and son of former president Abdala Bucaram. In his public remarks, Moreno said he will continue to work toward providing free education and healthcare for children and adults and ensure the country does not only depend on exporting oil.

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