With the tides of political fortune running inexorably against him, the conventional wisdom is that President Guillermo Lasso’s days in office are numbered. But exactly how his days will end – and even if they will end before his term expires — is very much up in the air.
The Correistas and their allies in the National Assembly claim they have the votes to send him packing but insiders say they are far short of the 92 they need. Besides impeachment, some of the president’s opponents are daring him to invoke the so-called muerte cruzada, or death cross, in which the Assembly is dissolved and new elections are called for both the Assembly and presidency. Yet a third possibility, of course, is that he simply resigns.
At this point Lasso shows little enthusiasm for any of the options and even believes, according to friends, that he can outlast his enemies.
So how does the drama play out? Although the situation is complicated, several scenarios are taking shape.
Short of a resignation, it seems almost inevitable the Assembly will begin impeachment proceedings following the work of the Occasional, or “Justice”, Commission investigating Lasso’s alleged ties to public company corruption, which involve a collection of shady characters, including the president’s brother-in-law. Among the criminal charges the commission is considering is that Lasso financed his presidential campaign and the failed referendum campaign with Albanian drug money.
It should be noted that claims of corruption are cast about with wild abandon in Ecuadorian politics, and have been for decades. For every claim that dirty money financed Lasso’s campaigns, there are others, equally entertaining but equally unproven, tying Correista and Pachakutik Assembly members to drug gangs and illegal mine operators.
The full impeachment process could take as long two months, with the clock not ticking until the Justice Commission finishes its work and makes its recommendation to the full Assembly. Even then, the effort could be derailed by the Constitutional Court denying the legitimacy of the Commission’s criminal charges.
Despite what transpires in the Assembly, it’s doubtful Lasso will be impeached. One of his confidants suggested in a radio interview last week that he will let the process play out, possibly to the last minute, and then invoke the death cross, rendering the entire process null and void.
Under rules of the death cross, Lasso would not only remain in office for an additional five or six months while new elections are organized, but would have the right to rule by decree, without interference from the Assembly.
Despite opponents’ bravado in inviting the death cross, there is trepidation among many Asambleístas. First is the fear of Lasso having absolute power during the period leading up to new elections and time, perhaps, to rebuild his reputation. Second, is the personal concern among members that many, probably most, will lose their seats in the election — and lose their monthly salary of $4,700, no small matter in Ecuador’s beleaguered economy.
But speculation about the Assembly drama may be beside the point. Lasso’s biggest threat are the protests by indigenous groups and labor unions that are almost certain to come. Unlike the indigenous strikes of 2019 and 2022, the next one will be focused on a single goal: removing the president from office. If protests can bring the country to its knees and keep in there for two or three weeks, there will be overwhelming pressure for Lasso to resign, and not just from his opponents. There quickly comes a point where the public believes peace at any price is better than chaos.
For the record, presidents being run out of town by the mob is a time-honored tradition in Latin America. It has happened four times in Ecuador since the end of the dictatorships in the 1970s. Most locals take it in stride. Life goes on and the pendulum of politics, as in life, continues to wag.
Given all the possibilities, the question inevitably becomes, what about Vice President Alfredo Borrero? Relatively little is known about him except that he seems like a decent chap, well-liked by both medical colleagues and politicians. He has a solid education, going through med school in Cuenca, earning graduate degrees at the best university in Mexico and at Harvard. Although he is a long-time friend of Lasso and member of Lasso’s center-right CREO party, he rarely gets into political discussions. In the handful of interviews he has granted, he is careful to focus on health care issues, reminding interviewers that that is where his expertise lies.
If Lasso does in fact leave office without invoking the death cross, Borrero would most likely serve as a caretaker president, much in the fashion of Alfredo Palacio following the ouster of Lucio Gutiérrez in 2005. To the extent he could, he would make peace with the Assembly and indigenous leaders but would defer to the next administration on bigger issues.
Even if Lasso survives impeachment and protests, it is not unreasonable to ask why he would want to stay in office anyway. Given the political climate, there is little chance he can accomplish very much in the last two years of his term and the absolute certainty that those years will be filled with unpleasantness. Maybe more important, the man is in poor health. As a result of two accidents that severely injured his spine, he is in constant pain and on heavy doses of pain pills.
Needless to say, the unfolding drama can take a number of turns. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the good doctor from Cuenca.