Candidates investigated for criminal gang ties; ETAPA says water rationing is possible; Cotopaxi volcanic activity increases; Judges suspended

Dec 27, 2022

Following up on claims by President Guillermo Lasso, the Interior Ministry and National Police say they are investigating several political candidates suspected of having ties to drug trafficking and illegal mining activity.

“We have received reports of candidates for the February election who have connections to criminal gangs and have opened investigations of several of these,” Police Commander Fausto Salinas said Friday. “We also have knowledge that gang members have contacted some candidates, promising campaign money and votes.”

Concern is growing due to the increased volcanic activity at Cotopaxi, southeast of Quito.

Last week, Lasso said he had “direct knowledge” that at least seven members of the National Assembly had ties to organized crime. In addition, he said that “a large number” of candidates in mayoral and prefect races have such ties or have been approached by criminal gang members.

Interior Minister Juan Zapata, who oversees the police, said information about suspected candidate gang ties is being turned over to the Attorney General’s office. “This is a top priority as the campaign for the elections begin,” he said. “If criminals are influencing our elections, our democratic system is as risk.”

On Thursday, Lasso clarified earlier statements that drug money was influencing members of the Correista UNES party. “I believe this is true but corruption does not respect political party lines. This affects all parties and political persuasions. If there are cases of it within my own party, they must be investigated and prosecuted.”

ETAPA says water rationing is possible
Cuenca’s public utility company ETAPA is advising customers that reductions in drinking water service may be necessary in the coming weeks. The utility says that the city’s reservoirs in the Cajas Mountain foothills are approaching levels that would require periodic service interruptions. ETAPA adds that the four rivers that supply the reservoirs are running at less than 20% of normal flow.

ETAPA drinking water manager Josué Larriva reports that the last three months of 2022 have been exceptionally dry. “Historically, this is a dry time of the year but rainfall since mid-October has been 30% below normal levels,” he said. “If seasonal rains do not return by mid- to late-January we will be required to apply rolling service stoppages.”

The National Institute of Meteorology is predicting light showers in the coming days but Larriva says “we need strong, substantial” showers to replenish reservoirs.

ETAPA supplies drinking water to 580,000 people in Cuenca, about 85% of the city’s population.

Judges suspended for releasing gang members
Manta criminal court judges Mary Quintero and José Alarcón have been suspended for 90 days by the National Judiciary Council for alleged trial infractions regarding the release of 18 prisoners accused of illegal drug trafficking.

According to the Council, the two judges appear to have applied “narrowly defined technicalities” to release the prisoners. “The council and the prosecutor’s office have begun an investigation into the cases and plan to reach conclusions within the 90 days of the judges’ suspension,” the Council said in a statement.

According to one prosecutor, most of the prisoners released by the judges had ties to the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel and its Ecuadorian affiliates.

Concerns grow over Cotopaxi volcanic activity
As a result of increasing activity at the Cotopaxi volcano, the Geophysical Institute said Friday it is increasing monitoring activity at five reporting stations near the volcano. Since December 19, there has been an increase in the number of earthquakes near Cotopaxi and well as increases in gas and ash emissions.

“Although we believe there is no imminent danger of eruption, the increasing activity requires that we monitor our stations on a continuing basis,” the Institute said. “We are also advising risk management offices to prepare emergency plans in vulnerable communities near the volcano, including Mejía, Rumiñahui and Latacunga.” The statement said evacuation plans should also be in place for several neighborhoods of southeast Quito, 45 miles from Cotopaxi.”

On December 20 and 21, areas of southern Quito were affected by light to moderate ashfall from the volcano. Monitoring stations also reported high concentrations of sulfur dioxide gas.