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Ecuador News

Bus drivers strike over tougher regulations, More extortion cases reported in Assembly, Miami financial advisor guilty in PetroEcuador case

Bus drivers strike over tougher regulations

Inter-provincial bus drivers in several provinces began a work stoppage Wednesday in protest of what they are claim are overly strict law enforcement and driver qualification requirements. The new government measures are a result, in part, of recent bus accidents that killed dozens of bus passengers. Provinces affected by the strike include Guayas, Imbabura, Carchi, Santo Domingo and Los Rios.

In bus terminals in Guayas Province, passengers wait for ticket offices to reopen.

In a statement issues by the Professional Drivers’ Union of Ecuador, the stricter safety measures were criticized as “a drastic and unrealistic over-reaction to the accidents.” Specifically, drivers object to an increase in speeding and dangerous driving fines imposed by transit police and to tougher requirements of the revised drivers’ qualification exam.

Among the bus coops that did not sell tickets Wednesday were Valencia, Caluma, Ventanas, Ciudad de Vinces, Fbi, and Santa Elisa Coop. Bus companies were operating normally in Pichincha, Chimborazo, Canar, Azuay and Loja provinces.

More cases of legislative extortion reported

New complaints of National Assembly members extorting payment from staff members for employment and advancement have been reported to news media and assembly leadership. So far, most of the charges come from workers who have asked to remain anonymous until they are guaranteed protection from retaliation. Since Monday, 13 new complaints have been filed, adding to the 10 reported last week.

Called “tolls” or “tithes”, the fees are allegedly charged to higher paid staff members and amount to as much as 50 percent of their salaries. Although most fees are direct cash payments, others are for car, mortgage and entertainment expenses.

According to assemblyman Fabricio Villamar, the guilty assembly members come from several parties of both the political right and left. “Greed has no ideology,” he said Wednesday, adding that he is working with the assembly president to expose and expel the guilty. “If I do not get satisfaction from leadership, I will take the cases directly to the prosecutor’s office,” Villamar said. “This sort of extortion and blackmail has no place in government.”

U.S. financial advisor guilty of PetroEcuador money laundering

The U.S. attorney’s office in Miami reports that Miami financial advisor Jose Larrea has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit money laundering in a case involving Ecuador’s nationally owned oil company. Larrea admitted wiring more than $1 million between bank accounts to conceal bribes that were paid to officials at PetroEcuador.

The bribes involved an oil services contractor who was trying to keep existing contracts and win new ones. Larrea is the fourth person to plead guilty in the case, including the contractor and two former PetroEcuador officials. Sentencing is scheduled for November 14 in Miami federal court.