National Assembly members accused of ‘shake-downs’
As many as a dozen members of the National Assembly are being accused of demanding money and favors from staff members and some other government officials. Among those accused is former assembly president Gabriela Rivadeneira.
According to one staff member, the payments were demanded by legislators from employees mostly for the purpose of gaining advancement or keeping their jobs. “We were asked to cover the cost of meals and, in some cases, to buy airline tickets and make car payments,” says Andrea Utreras. “It was extortion and a shake-down.” Utreras resigned her position in the assembly rather than pay.
The so-called “legislative tithes” were often demanded on a monthly basis and were usually not paid directly to assembly members. In the case of Rivadeneira, her husband was in charge of collections, according to one accuser. In addition to Rivadeneira, Utreras also directly implicated assemblywoman Karina Arteaga.
At least five other assembly staff members — who asked to remain anonymous – have made complaints about the demands for tithes. Leadership of the assembly said it would begin an investigation this week.
Quito subway cars vandalized by graffitistas
An organized attack by about 20 graffiti artists early Sunday morning resulted in damage to two units of Quito’s subway system, currently under construction. The vandals tied and gagged security guards at the subway garage, then spray painted the cars. They were interrupted by other guards before they could inflict further damage. Quito Mayor Maurico Rodas said the attack was a “criminal assault” and predicted that police will identify the culprits from video images.
Environmentalists reject Hague ruling in Chevron case
The Amazon Defense Front is urging the government to ignore last week’s ruling by the International Court of Appeals at the Hague, which rejected the $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron Oil. The claim was made in 1993 by residents of the Amazon who contend that oil production by Texaco Oil had polluted the water, causing a variety of illness, including cancer. Texaco was purchased by Chevron in 1999. “We reject the right of a secret panel of three arbitrators to pass down this judgment and ask the government to proceed with the collection process,” said Carmen Cartuche, president of the Amazon Front. He added that legal proceedings are continuing in some countries, including Canada. Ecuador’s Ombudsman’s Office is also urging officials to pursue the settlement, claiming the Hague is ignoring the rights of plaintiffs.
The government’s position on the suit was complicated last week when President Lenin Moreno’s legal secretary asked the attorney general to investigate former president Rafael Correa’s efforts to influence national and international public opinion in a public relations campaign in which the government paid foreign celebrities to attack Chevron and support the Amazonians. The legal secretary maintains that Correa’s actions weakens the plaintiffs’ case.
Galapagos celebrates 40-year anniversary
On Sunday, the Galapagos Islands celebrated 40 years of its designation as a Unesco world heritage site. “We celebrate the declaration of special status of the Galapagos and the environmental protection that has preserved these enchanted islands,” President Lenin Moreo said in recognition of the anniversary. The 1978 Unesco designation cited the unique flora and fauna of the islands and was part of an agreement with the government to impose protective measures for the islands. The Galapagos was Unesco’s first world heritage site. Today there are a total of 222 worldwide.