Cuenca suffers case of ‘mass hysteria and mass stupidity’; 35 motorcycles seized in traffic stops; National Assembly backs Noboa in ‘war on gangs’

Jan 11, 2024 | 0 comments

“The city lost its mind yesterday.” That’s the way University of Azuay psychology professor Ivan Iglesias described what happened Tuesday afternoon in Cuenca.

Based on social media posts claiming criminal gangs were setting off explosions and that prisoners had escaped from the Trui prison, panic spread through the city. In El Centro, pedestrians rushed to bus stops and parking garages in an effort to get home. Near Parque Calderon, at least three people were knocked down in the stampede. Businesses and public offices locked their doors and pulled down their shutters. Gas stations reported a run on gasoline and some supermarket shelves were cleared.

Azuay Provinces Prefect and Cuenca Mayor Cristian Zamora debunked social media rumors in a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

Pleas for calm from Mayor Crisitan Zamora and Azuay Prefect Juan Cristóbal could not stop the panic. “Nothing is happening in Cuenca, all the rumors are false, there is no criminal attacks here,” Zamora said at an emergency news conference with Cristóbal.

Iglesias calls the over-reaction not just a case of mass hysteria, but one of “mass stupidity.”

“People didn’t bother to question the source of the rumors posted on Facebook and WhatsApp groups,” he said. “They just reacted and followed the mob. Yes, we are in a national emergency regarding the drug gangs, but you would think people would stop and try to verify what they were hearing.”

In their news conference, convened as the panic was unfolding, Zamora and Cristóbal debunked the rumors one by one. “There have been no bombings at the 9 de Octobre or 12 de Abril markets. There has been no bombing at the government building and no prisoners have escaped from Turi,” Zamora said. “All these stories are false. There is no need to shut down El Centro.”

Cristóbal explained that an ambulance outside the governor’s office on Parque Calderon was assisting a woman who had fallen on the stairs. “The Gobierno was not attacked and was not bombed,” he said.

According to Iglesias, the panic caused by the rumors could have serious consequences. “You can laugh at it and say how stupid people were but, on the other hand, history tells us these events can have deadly results.”

35 Motorcycles seized in traffic checks
Cuenca Mayor Cristian Zamora reported Wednesday that 35 motorcycles were confiscated in a series of traffic stops in the city earlier in the day. Most of the violations were for unauthorized passengers, the lack of drivers licenses, license plates and vehicle registration, he said. “In light of the national emergency, we are strictly enforcing the prohibition of young male passengers. As always, we are also enforcing the licensing and registration laws.”

Zamora said a motorcycle with a male passenger was seen leaving the scene of a garbage can bombing near Av. Primero de Mayo Monday night. “In the violence that occurred Monday and Tuesday around the country, many of the criminal acts were committed by motorcycles with passengers,” he said. “We will enforce the law with special diligence during the course of the emergency.”

National Assembly votes support for Noboa
The National Assembly unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday supporting President Daniel Noboa’s emergency order allowing the armed forces to support National Police in the crackdown on criminal gangs. “With this vote the Assembly pronounces its full support for the government’s efforts to fight against terrorist gangs in Ecuador,” said Assembly President Henry Kronfle. “We understand that we are at war with the criminals and understand this requires extraordinary measures.”

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