Attorney General Diana Salazar questioned a judge’s decision Thursday to allow former president Abdulá Bucaram and Guayas Prefect Carlos Luis Morales to remain in their homes following their arrests for allegedly selling Covid-19 tests and other medical supplies to hospitals at inflated prices. At the direction of an unnamed judge, both men were released from jail following their arraignment Wednesday morning.
“These men face serious corruption charges and most of the others arrested are in jail,” she said. “Were they released because of who they are, because of political influence? Did someone intercede with the judge? Allowing the powerful to escape the same justice as other criminal suspects sends the wrong message to the citizens.”
The Ecuador Association of Magistrates and Judges reacted to Salazar’s charges, claiming she was interfering in the judicial process. “It is up to the judges to determine the pretrial disposition of suspects, not the prosecutor. We will respect her purview but we expect her to respect ours,” the association said in a statement.
Salazar said her concerns are well-founded, based on the escape of others under house arrest awaiting trial. “Look at the fugitives from Ecuadorian justice who are now living in Europe and Miami? Haven’t we learned our lesson?” she asked. Between 2017 and the end of 2019, eight house arrest suspects awaiting trial have fled the country, according to the attorney general’s office.
Bucaram and Morales were arrested with 15 others in Guayaquil Wednesday morning, charged with being part of criminal network that sold Covid-19 tests, personal protection supplies and medicine to Social Security hospitals at inflated prices. In addition, Bucaram was charged with possession of unregistered firearms and ammunition.
Most Covid-19 are treated at home
The Health Ministry said Wednesday that the vast majority of Covid-19 cases are being treated at home. “Of the 17,400 active cases in the country, more than 17,000 are being managed in private homes with excellent results,” the ministry says. “Although our hospitals are being taxed by several hundred severe cases, we still have capacity nationwide.” Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said Monday that the “curve of new Covid cases has flattened” and that number is beginning to fall. He added that 90 percent of all Covid-19 patients have recovered.
Labor group plans protests June 8
President of the United Workers Front (FUT) Messiah Tatamuez announced Thursday that “thousands and thousands of Ecuadorians” will take to the streets Monday, June 8 to protest recent economic measures by President Lenin Moreno and the National Assembly. “We will show our outrage at the reactionary neo-liberal policies that have resulted in workers in the public and private sectors losing their jobs,” he said. “We intend to protest peacefully, respecting the health protocols of the pandemic, but we will be in the streets.” He said the protest will be joined by university students and some indigenous groups.
Former vice minister blasts education budget cuts
The ex-vice minister of education, Vinicio Baquero, claims that the budget reductions ordered by President Lenin Moreno and approved by the National Assembly will “devastate” public education in Ecuador. “How can you take $900 million out of a budget of $3.7 billion and still have a functioning system? he asked. “Primary education was already badly underfunded so this is a kick in the stomach.” Baquero, who resigned May 28, said that the sytsem will have tens-of-thousands of new students due to the economic difficulties of families that have previously had their children in private schools. “The parents have lost their jobs and will turn to the public system for their children. How can we absorb these numbers?”