City council approves ordinance banning drinking in public places; some councilors worry that it can’t be enforced

Sep 16, 2014

Cuenca has joined Quito in outlawing drinking in public places.

The city council agreed on Tuesday to fine those found guilty of drinking in public $170, or half of the minimum monthly wage of $340. Those found guilty of selling and distributing alcoholic beverages will pay $340.

The majority of councilors rejected several amendments to the ordinance, including one that would have allowed the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages at some public events. Councilor Norma Illares argued that the consumption of indigenous drinks, such as canelazos, is a part of local tradition and should be allowed during special events. “It is too bad that we have to give up parts of our tradition to reduce alcoholism,” she said.

Councilman Leonardo Berrezueta said that there should be no exemptions to the new regulations. “We have a very problem with public drunkenness in Cuenca. It leads to violence and accidents and has a damaging effect on our youth. We have to be tough in our enforcement,” he said.

Several council members said that enforcement would be a problem since it will be under the authority of the city’s citizen guard. The guard only has 60 officers although funding for 40 more has been allocated. According to Illares, the guard is primarily responsible for policing areas of high tourist traffic during the day. "Will we take them off that duty to arrests drunks a night?" she asked.

Drinking in private homes, bars and restaurants is not affected by the ordinance although Berrezueta said it could impact some bars that have allowed groups of drinkers to congregate outside their premises.

The new law goes into affect in eight days but the first 30 days of enforcement will only involve warnings.

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