This is a brief account of the most relevant political events in this year.
This 2021 has been a turbulent year for the country that is still experiencing the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Lenin Moreno ended his presidential term on May 24th, leaving in scandal over his lack of oversight on the first vaccinations for covid-19, and standing by during the first outbreak of violence of the year in prisons.
In the first months of 2021 there was an intense electoral campaign with16 candidates vying for the presidency. Although there was a period of uncertainty after the announcement by the National Electoral Council (CNE), which initially named Andrés Arauz, candidate of Correísmo, and Yaku Pérez, candidate of Pachakutik, as winners in the first round, finally Arauz had to face Guilermo Lasso in the second round. Lasso would end up defeating him and assuming the presidency.
Once in power, Guillermo Lasso also faced his first great challenges: the need to vaccinate the majority of the population in order to reactivate the economy, the urgency of making decisions to appease the prison crisis, and the search for consensus among political opponents and social leaders.
This is a brief summary of the political milestones of 2021.
The first batch of covid-19 vaccines arrived on January 20, 2021. However, in those days there were delays that the then Minister of Health, Juan Carlos Zevallos, justified by saying that they were “in the distribution of the vaccine by Pfizer,” the pharmaceutical company that makes and distributes them.
The opacity in the distribution of these vaccines was evident: the vaccination plan was not made public until March. In it, it was established that in the zero phase or pilot plan there would be front-line personnel, elderly people who live in nursing homes, and the personnel who take care of them. According to a government infographic, this phase only included public residences for the elderly. However, Zevallos confirmed that his mother had been vaccinated at her residence at Hospital de Los Valles, a private center in Quito.
In response to the questions that arose from that moment on, Zevallos replied: “Whether or not this was political recklessness on my part, I don’t know. I am not a politician; I do not understand politics. If someone wishes that within this process, they had left out my mother or anyone else, I must tell them that I differ.” The Communication Secretary of the Presidency at that time, Caridad Vela, justified that the Minister’s mother was vaccinated without the gerontological center having originally been on the list. “If my mother were alive, I would also like to have her vaccinated tomorrow,” said Moreno’s former Secretary of Communication Caridad Vela.
That was just the beginning of a series of questions that the Moreno government was unable to answer, showing little transparency and seriousness.
Two days after the vaccination process officially began, two officials from the Carlos Andrade Marín hospital of the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS) in Quito were dismissed, for allegedly having been vaccinated when they were not part of the staff caring for patients with covid-19.
At the end of January, a group of doctors in Cuenca claimed that 13 people were vaccinated at the Vicente Corral Moscoso Hospital who were on the front line of care for covid-19. The rest of those vaccinated were doctors from other specialties who did not work directly with infected patients. At the end of January, the Ombudsman’s Office and the national Assembly asked President Lenín Moreno to remove Minister Zevallos.
The vaccination program started very slow. Thru March, two months after the process began, Ecuador was one of the countries with the lowest number of vaccinated in the region, with only 0.7% of the population vaccinated.
The privileges did not cease in the following months. The Assembly of the Higher Education System (Asesec) confirmed on February 18th that several rectors had been invited to be vaccinated. Later, several of the academics who had been invited said they declined the offer.Top of FormBottom of Form
On January 29th, the State Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation against Juan Carlos Zevallos for the alleged crime of influence peddling in the process of distributing vaccines against covid-19. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, it received “several complaints” against the then Minister. Three days earlier, Zevallos had resigned from his post, and hours later, he left the country on a flight to the United States.
On May 5th, just days before Moreno left power, the National Assembly censured Juan Carlos Zevallos with 91 votes. Zevallos was tried in absentia; in other words, he did not attend his political trial in person or in person for failure to perform his duties. No proceedings have been made public in the case that the Prosecutor’s Office opened against him, nor has it been known whether he has returned to Ecuador.
A few months later, with Guillermo Lasso in power, Ecuador would become one of the countries that most vaccinated people against covid-19. On August 31, 2021, the government of Guillermo Lasso announced that it achieved its goal of vaccinating 9 million people in one hundred days, as it had promised in the presidential campaign.
Those 9 million, Lasso said, are 52% of the total population and 75% of the population over 16 years of age, the age since the vaccines against the coronavirus that have caused this pandemic are applied (at the time). Reaching 9 million people vaccinated in his first 100 days in office was Lasso’s main campaign proposal and, according to him, was his main economic plan.
Starting in October, the third (booster) dose began to be given to vaccinated people over 65 years of age and in children between 5 and 11 years old.
This has made it possible to reduce severe cases of covid-19 and hospitalization, in addition to reactivating the economy.
The Constitutional Court decriminalized abortion in rape cases
On April 28th, the Constitutional Court – the highest court in Ecuador – decided that women who abort when the pregnancy is the product of rape will not be penalized.
With the votes of seven of the nine constitutional judges, the Court concluded that paragraph 2 of article 150 of the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code (COIP) is unconstitutional. This said that abortions are not punishable when “the pregnancy is the consequence of rape in a woman suffering from mental disability.” The Court decided to eliminate the specificity that abortion was possible on whether there was a mental disability and extended it to all women who have suffered rape.
The Court’s ruling resolved six lawsuits filed between 2019 and 2021 on the same legal issue: the unconstitutionality of that article. The six lawsuits were accumulated in a single case.
In its ruling, the Court ordered that the Ombudsman, within a maximum period of two months from the notification of the sentence, draft a bill to regulate the voluntary interruption of pregnancy in cases of rape. That project was handed over to the National Assembly exactly two months later, on June 28, 2021, with the new National Assembly in office. Then the project was sent to the Justice Commission, chaired by the legislator of the Democratic Left (ID), Alejandro Jaramillo.
According to the legislative procedure, the commission had to debate the project and present a report. This report was finally voted on by the committee on December 2nd, with 8 favorable votes and 2 abstentions. The abstentions were by Sofía Espín, from UNES, and Ricardo Vanegas, from Pachakutik. The latter made an alternative proposal for a project called Organic Law for the harmonization of the protection of human life from conception with the decriminalization of consensual abortion in case of rape.
The document, which already had its first debate in plenary session on December 9th, was approved by the Justice Commission. A second debate is still pending before voting. The Assembly left for the legislative vacancy on December 16th, and according to the Constitutional Court, the National Assembly had 6 months to debate and approve the law; that period – which is clearly not going to be fulfilled – is December 28th.
Ecuador elected president, vice president and assembly members
The registrations of the presidential candidates officially ended in December 2020, but the strongest campaign was made in the first months of this year. There were 16 presidential candidates – a single woman – and, for the first time by legal obligation, there were two debates organized by the National Electoral Council.
The first electoral round was on February 7th and the National Electoral Council advanced the first results of the quick count: Andrés Arauz, candidate of Correismo, and Yaku Pérez, from Pachakutik, would go to the second round. After the finals count were certified, Lasso, instead of Pérez, went to the second round with just half a point of difference (Guayas province, where Lasso was strongest, had not been counted when the quick count was released).
Finally, the CNE confirmed that Arauz would face Guillermo Lasso in the second round, which was on April 11th. The trend that favored Lasso in recent days was confirmed when his victory was announced. His binomial, the new Vice President, is the doctor Alfredo Borrero.
Although in recent years the presidential candidate is usually the one who achieves the majority in the Assembly, this was not the case for CREO, the movement with which Lasso participated in the elections – in alliance with the Social Christian Party.
In the National Assembly, CREO lost 20 seats compared to 2017: it went from 32 to 12. It was the correista coalition Unión por la Esperanza (UNES) that reached the first minority, with 48 legislators, including Pierina Correa —the sister of former President Rafael Correa. The second winning force was that of Pachakutik, with 28 assembly members who, in addition, obtained the necessary votes so that Guadalupe Llori, elected by that political organization, could preside over the National Assembly.
Lenín Moreno left power, and the country
May 24, 2021 was the presidential change of command. Guillermo Lasso officially began his mandate that should last until 2025.
Lenín Moreno left with less than 6% favorability, one of the lowest figures ever recorded by an Ecuadorian president who ended his term. His last months were marked by questions about the vaccination process against covid-19 that his government established, the prison crisis and the disconnection that seemed to exist between the President and what was happening in the country.
In August 2021, Moreno informed the newly positioned National Assembly that he would leave the country for the United States and that he would remain there for three months. By constitutional obligation, established in Article 144, the President of the Republic must “communicate to the National Assembly, in advance of his departure, the period and the reasons for his absence from the country” during his mandate and for up to one year after terminating their duties. Moreno left the Presidency on May 24, 2021, therefore, in August – and until May 2022 – he must notify the Assembly if he leaves the country.
In the notice that Moreno addressed to the President of the Assembly, Guadalupe Llori, he said that he would give some lectures at the invitation of the Inter-American Institute for Democracy and will hold meetings at the University of Florida with the possibility of joining that institution.
Although the announced deadline for his return expired in November, it is not known when Moreno will return. What was made public in September is that the former president would be one of the presenters of a leadership program of the Adam Smith Center for Economic Freedom of Florida International University (FIU) – in which Francisco Santos Calderón, former vice president of Colombia, will also participate.
The criminal and political trial against the Ombudsman
On May 17, Freddy Carrión, Ombudsman, was arrested after leading violent acts at the home of the former Minister of Health, Mauro Falconí. Neighbors alerted by the altercation between Falconí and Carrión, called the Police.
That day, a strict curfew was in force to prevent the spread of covid-19. However, Carrión went to the Falconí apartment, where there was a social gathering. The building’s security cameras captured Carrión forcing a woman to get out of an elevator. Those videos quickly spread to social media. Later it was learned that the woman was Gabriela Peñaherrera, Falconí’s partner, whom, according to the justice, Carrión sexually assaulted. The video also shows Carrión and Falconí, hitting and struggling.
The same day the information of the police report was also shared on social networks.
Initially, a statement on which Carrión’s signature appears, said that he had a “breakdown” in his health and that is why he was receiving care in a medical center. However, Judge Luis Adrián Rojas, of the National Court of Justice, confirmed that Carrión was transferred to Prison 4. His defense appealed the measure, but it was never accepted, nor was the attempt to benefit from habeas corpus accepted.
Carrión was called to trial for the alleged crime of sexual abuse. The State Attorney General, Diana Salazar, presented 36 elements of conviction to support the accusatory opinion. The trial hearing advanced rapidly. Justice found Carrión guilty, as the author, of sexual abuse. He must spend three years in prison.
A month and a half before the call for trial, on September 15th, the National Assembly had already decided to remove him from his post as Ombudsman; he had not been in office since he was taken to jail in May. After receiving preventive detention, Carrión requested a 30-day leave and, during that period, Zaida Rovira assumed the position of surrogate Ombudsman.
On June 18th, from Prison 4, Carrión tried to dismiss Rovira from her duties and began a struggle for control of the Ombudsman’s Office that lasted several months and was settled with the removal of Carrión. With 75 votes in favor in the plenary session of the National Assembly —and the majority abstention from Correísmo and a good part of the Pachakutik legislators.
The impeachment against Carrión was due to an alleged breach of duties and the improper use of public property. The legislator of Pachakutik, Ricardo Vanegas, one of the promoters of the impeachment trial, said that a public servant such as the Ombudsman could neither use the vehicle of the Ombudsman, nor escorts to go to the private meeting at the house of Mauro Falconí, the night the events occurred for which Carrión was later tried and sentenced to prison.
Throughout the process, Carrión said that it was a persecution and that there were political interests to remove him from his position, especially after the Ombudsman’s Office presented a report on the events of October 2019 . The Special Commission for Truth and Justice, created by the Ombudsman’s Office, suggested the possibility of committing crimes against humanity and alleged responsibilities for different officials of the Lenín Moreno government.
On August 31, Carrión said, in front of journalists, that they had put something in his drink on the night of May 16, 2021. “It is impossible that with two glasses of wine I would not remember absolutely anything and that the next day in a toxicological test shows that I do not have a degree of alcohol,” he said. He also told reporters that days before that social gathering, Falconí asked to meet with him to discuss acts of corruption. Falconí would have told him that there was “a loss or theft” of thousands of vaccines against covid-19 in which former Vice President María Alejandra Vicuña would be involved. Also, according to Carrión, Falconí told him that he had the list of “VIP vaccines” and that there were cases of corruption in the National Public Procurement Service (Sercop).
The Mayor of Quito was removed from office
Jorge Yunda ceased to be Mayor of Quito after a struggle for power and after several legal remedies that he used to avoid being removed from office. On September 29th, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling ratifying Santiago Guarderas as Mayor of Quito.
The removal process had begun several months earlier, amid questions for alleged irregularities in the Yunda administration. The largest resulted in a criminal proceeding for the purchase of PCR tests after the State Comptroller General’s Office issued a report with indications of criminal responsibility for the purchase of 100,000 tests. The report specifies that the need for the purchase, its objectives, and the ability to process the results of the tests that were purchased were not justified.
In this case, Jorge Yunda and other officials and former officials of the municipality – among whom are Dr. Ximena Abarca and scientist Linda Guamán – are also being prosecuted. Since February of this year, Yunda wears an electronic shackle and must comply with the periodic presentation in court.
In parallel to the criminal process, the removal process was progressing, which took place on June 2, 2021. That day, with 14 votes and 6 abstentions from the Quito Metropolitan Council, it was decided to remove him from his post, for “failing to comply with the established provisions in the legislation to guarantee the exercise of the right to citizen participation in the management of the respective decentralized autonomous government.” Yunda made some legal maneuvers to prevent his removal but in July, Santiago Guarderas took office as Mayor. It lasted for 11 days. Yunda returned after a court of the Court of Pichincha decided to annul his removal. Yunda managed to stay in front of the Mayor’s Office for two more months, but since the end of September, Santiago Guarderas has replaced him. The period will end in May 2023.
And although Jorge Yunda is no longer mayor, he will continue to face justice. The trial hearing for alleged embezzlement for the purchase of PCR evidence began in September, and his son Sebastián Yunda is also being investigated by the courts for alleged illicit association. The Prosecutor’s Office began the investigation ex officio based on chats in which Sebastián Yunda spoke with municipal officials to make irregular purchases in the Municipality of Quito, which at that time was headed by his father.
In an interview in June 2021, Jorge Yunda said that he had warned his collaborators that they should not respond to any request from their relatives regarding municipal management. He also said that he had asked his son for explanations. “It is a completely delicate subject. I thought my son was chatting with his friends, with his bandmates, with his fans. I thought he was dedicated to subjects of his studies, and it is a painful subject when I see that he was also chatting with officials of his father’s public function. It has been a very painful subject, very sensitive. I will support him, we all make mistakes,” he said.
A few months earlier, Yunda had said “I am not going to put my hands in the fire for absolutely anyone. Neither by relatives nor friends nor compadres nor officials. I answer for my actions.”
This December 1st, Sebastián Yunda – who was a fugitive – was arrested in Argentina. According to the Ministry of Government, he was located with international cooperation – Interpol had activated its red notification to find him – and the procedures to transfer him back to Ecuador have already begun.
When he arrives, Sebastián Yunda will have to comply with the preventive detention order that has been weighing on him since October of this year.
The creation of a new marine reserve in Galapagos
President Guillermo Lasso announced the creation of a new reserve in Galapagos. He said this on November 1st at a press conference at COP26 – the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – in Glasgow, Scotland.
Lasso welcomed a proposal from the civil society of Galapagos and said that the new reserve will be financed with “a debt-for-nature swap”, a mechanism that makes it easier for a country to invest in conservation projects in exchange for reducing its external debt.
The Galapagos National Park has an area of 8,000 square kilometers and is considered the best-preserved archipelago in the world as 97% of its territory belongs to the national park and 130,000 kilometers of its waters are a protected marine reserve. The waters of the marine reserve are home to 95% of endemic species. The objective of this new protected area is to help in the conservation of marine species and ecosystems that the current reserve has not been able to cover.
The President said that the 60,000 square kilometers of the new reserve will be distributed as follows: 30,000 of non-production fishing zone, which will be located on the Cordillera de los Cocos – an area of high biodiversity of endangered migratory species such as the hammerhead shark. And 30,000 of no longline area, in the northeast of the islands.
A month and a half after the announcement, there is still no executive decree confirming the creation of the new marine reserve.
This year was the most violent in prisons
2021 has been the year in which the highest number of episodes of violence were recorded in the country’s prisons. In the last three years, however, there has been no truce. In 2019 there were 35 violent deaths, in 2020 that figure increased to 51 and thru November 2021 there have been at least 320 people killed in the clashes.
The first violent act of the year inside the prisons was in February, when Lenín Moreno still ruled the country and left at least 79 dead, all deprived of liberty. It was a simultaneous mutiny in four prisons: one in Azuay, two in Guayas, and one in Cotopaxi. That day a female prison guard was raped.
General Edmundo Moncayo, then director of the National Service for Comprehensive Attention to Adults Deprived of Liberty and Adolescent Offenders (SNAI), said that the riots were related to the death of Jorge Luiz Zambrano, alias Rasquiña, leader of the organization criminal Los Choneros , who was assassinated in December 2020. Moncayo said the dispute was between those who seek to maintain the hegemony of this criminal organization.
The change of government and authorities of the SNAI did not prevent the confrontations from continuing either. In July there were incidents in the Cotopaxi prisons and in the Litoral Penitentiary in Guayas.
Then there were two more violent events: the largest occurred at the end of September, leaving 118 dead. A few days before the massacre – the largest in the recent history of the country – more incidents had been recorded. Police said that the Penitentiary was attacked with drones that launched explosives. In the early morning of that day, the neighbors reported a detonation in the jail.
After the violent events, Lasso announced a state of exception in all the country’s prisons. “This state of exception aims to protect the rights of people deprived of liberty,” he said. The President added that the government is working to “regain control of the Litoral Penitentiary and prevent these events from being repeated in any other penitentiary in Ecuador.”
The reason for decreeing was the “serious internal commotion ” due to the high levels of insecurity in several cities of the country.
The violence, however, did not end. In November, a massacre took place again in the Litoral Penitentiary: the fourth of the year, with at least 58 people killed.
Daniela Oña, an expert in human rights and prisons, explained in March that Ecuador’s prison system – with 38,000 prisoners – had been deteriorating since 2017, and that at that time they were already warning about problems such as lack of personnel, budget, a good prison reform and the weakening of the institutions of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, which previously controlled the prison system, and which is now in charge of the SNAI. Other factors such as the reforms of the Comprehensive Organic Penal Code (COIP) of 2014, the increase in crime in the country and corruption within prisons, contributed to the debacle.
The government has announced the creation of a pacification commission with a methodology applied in prisons in countries such as Mexico and Chile.
The National Assembly: scandal after scandal and little legislation
The National Assembly that ended its term last May, came out with historically low rates: 3% approval and huge debts to citizens. The low bar gave the new National Assembly enormous room for maneuver. However, in the few months that it was in office, its job has already been clouded several times.
Bella Jiménez, second vice president of the Assembly, was dismissed by her colleagues in October, after being involved in alleged acts of corruption (Yessenia Guamaní, from the ID, replaced her). The assemblywoman for the Democratic Left would have received undue payments in exchange for seats in the Assembly. After the scandal and before being dismissed by the plenary session of the Assembly, she was expelled from the political organization with which she arrived at the Legislative Palace, and on Friday, September 3rd, the Prosecutor’s Office raided her apartment and her office in the Assembly.
In addition, other legislators and advisers have been singled out for alleged acts of corruption. Darwin Pereira’s advisor, from Pachakutik, reportedly held public office on his behalf. Pereira has said that he has no control over what his advisers do and announced that the designated collaborator was separated from his team.
The president of the Assembly, Guadalupe Llori, also from Pachakuti, defended herself against the accusations that she had paid, with public funds, more than $800 for two days of accommodation at Tena, including massages. She was also questioned about a $ 100,000 contract for formal ceremonies in the National Assembly, which included breakfasts of up to $24, lunches of $45 and dinners of $50.
The work of the National Assembly has also been the target of accusations: the tax bill and the budget proforoma sent by President Lasso were entered by the Ministry of Law, without the observations of the legislators, after in both votes, the Assembly members acted with knowledge gaps in the legislative procedure. In the first case, the lack of votes from UNES to archive the tax bill sent by Lasso, caused the proposal to go into effect as it was sent by the Executive. That sparked speculation about a possible pact between the government and the correísmo, because, in addition, in the middle of the discussion for the abstention of UNES, several of the correístas leaders began to argue about the prosecuted officials, whom they consider “political prisoners.” In the second, it was a regulatory failure that caused the budget to remain as Lasso sent it.
Legislators’ absences from voting were also evidenced by a report from the Legislative Observatory on the 100 days of the Assembly. There, Guadalupe Llori is pointed out as the legislator who is most absent from the plenary session. Out of every 10 sessions there are, she does not attend 3. They are followed by Bruno Segovia from Pachakutik (23.4% absences); César Rohon, separated from the PSC (22.4% of absences) and Esteban Torres, from the PSC (19.6%).