Top Emergency Response Official Resigns Amid Allegations Of Corruption In Ecuador

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Food distribution in Ecuador. Source Twitter Riesgos
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By Vincent Ricci

Special To News Americas

News Americas, Quito, Ecuador, Fri. May 15, 2020: If you talk to most Ecuadorians, many will admit that the country has been devastated politically and economically by the novel coronavirus. To a large extent, that remains true.

After the first case of COVID-19 was announced back on February 29, 2020, Ecuador has seen a health minister jump ship in March, bodies left on the streets in Guayaquil – the epicenter of the outbreak on the coast, after a botched response, and inconsistent reports of new cases and the total death toll.

This comes at a time when the country looks to reopen economic productivity prematurely. To make matters worse, the head of Ecuador’s Agency of Risk and Emergency Management Services, Alexandra Ocles, resigned on Monday amid corruption allegations. To no one’s surprise, this happened a week after Ecuador’s Attorney General’s office launched an investigation looking into the purchase of 7,000 food kits meant to be given to needy families. President Lenín Moreno accepted her departure the same day.

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Food kits being delivered. (Source: Twitter Riesgos)

Hours after resigning, a report was released by an internal auditing agency that found inconsistencies in the contracted prices of the goods. The kits were bought at $150 apiece, but an analysis discovered all the products could have been bought for as much as $95 in the market. In total, nearly $1,182,428 was spent, when an estimation calculated at $706,790 was more realistic, according to the agency’s website.

Price estimations from audit. Source: Contraloría General del Estado

A day after her resignation, the attorney general’s office announced on Twitter that they were seeking to bring charges against the former secretary and four others after the internal audit’s conclusions, a week after the investigation began. Some, however, are skeptical and astounded by the prioritization of this case, catching national headlines on social media news outlets.

At least that is what Gonzalo Silva, a criminal lawyer, thinks. He expressed concern on a local news radio program on Tuesday, saying: “Why aren’t other cases investigated and done quickly by the Attorney General? (and) what are the reasons for this hateful, revengeful or possible political attitude towards Ms. Ocles?”

Silva’s questions raise an important point as Moreno’s government has been using varied forms of judicial manipulation to silent potential political opponents as the Ecuadorian election silently creeps up in 2021.

At the beginning of April, former leftist president, Rafael Correa, was sentenced to 8 years in prison and banned from holding public positions for 25 years. Correa has lived in Belgium since the end of his presidency, but his former vice president, Jorge Glas, began his sentence in 2017.

The selectiveness of these cases during the coronavirus outbreak appear to some to be opportunistic. Days after closing the borders on March 18, 2020, the national government approved two humanitarian flights from Europe to land in Guayaquil and retrieve stranded tourist wanting to go home. Approaching the runway, the planes were unable to land because of municipal and metropolitan police trucks blocking the planes from landing, all orchestrated by Guayaquil’s affluent mayor, Cynthia Viteri. The planes had to divert to the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

The following day, she announced on Twitter that she tested positive for COVID-19, leaving some to think it was staged to avoid consequences.

Blocked runway in Guayaquil on March 18. Source: Twitter Fiscalía Ecuador

Despite knowingly and clearly breaking national and international law and angering some European officials, an investigation was launched, but updates have been few and far between since the incident occurred. In an interview on April 22, 2020, Viteri responded to the investigation by saying: “I will go wherever they summon me.”

As of press time, no charges have been announced concerning this incident and Viteri continues to lead as mayor of Guayaquil. As Silva hinted in his interview, the government has been selective of who is deemed to be punished in their eyes. The Ocles and Viteri cases to some exemplify growing abuses in the judicial system as those connected to oligarchical power are unpunished when defying the rule of law.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Vincent Ricci is an independent journalist based in Ecuador. He covers human and indigenous rights, social movements, immigration, and politics in Ecuador and Latin America. You can follow him on Twitter @ Vincent__cr and his blog.