High-rise construction is booming; Amazon group demands gov’t resignations; Prison over-crowding reduced; Fake license, vax card mills investigated

Jul 18, 2022 | 11 comments

The construction of mid- and high-rise condominiums and office buildings is accelerating in Cuenca and developers say the trend will help control urban sprawl. According to Romel Zhindón, president of the Azuay College of Architects, at least 20 projects, ranging in size from five to 18 stories, are currently under construction.

Cuenca is revising its urban development plan to encourage more high-rise construction.

According to Zhindón, the new projects are being encouraged by municipal planners concerned that construction of single family homes and other small structures will outpace the city’s capacity to provide utilities. “When you concentrate a large number of dwellings in one location, it is much easier to provide water, electric and sewer service,” he said. “The fact that Cuenca is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains, makes this kind of concentration even more important.”

The Cuenca municipal council is currently reviewing plans to provide incentives to high-concentration construction. “In the past, the city’s Land Use and Management Plan did not always encourage high-rise construction,” Zhindón said. “It was properly concerned with protecting established neighborhoods but this can be overcome by sophisticated zoning rules and this is what the changes to the plan will do. The city understands that the population is growing rapidly and this must be managed by revising construction rules.”

A major concern of some municipal council members is providing housing for low-income families. “It is true that high-rise construction is good for infrastructure but it is also expensive,” says Councilman Crisitan Zamora. “New construction for condominiums costs $1,200 to $1,600 a meter on average and this is far beyond what many working people can afford. Most of the new residential condominiums are for middle- and upper-class people.”

Zhindón agrees but said the government must provide more funding for low-income housing. “It is possible to build complexes, even high-rises, for poorer families but there must be the commitment on the part of the government to provide money for this.”

Amazon indigenous demand government resignations
The governing board of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (Confeniae) is demanding that President Guillermo Lasso fire Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo and Defense Minister Luis Lara. Confeniae claims that the two were responsible for “inflicting violence on indigenous people” during the 18-day national strike in June.

In a statement, Confeniae claimed that police and army troops managed by Carrillo and Lara used excessive force against protesters. “We insist the government take responsibility for the excessive use of force during the days of protest and punish those responsible. We also demand full reparation for the families of those killed and injured during the exercise of their constitutional right to protest.”

The statement also called for strengthening the “indigenous guards” in the Amazon region. “We must have strong forces to protect our people and land when the government attacks us and threatens our communities.”

Prison over-crowding reduced
Ecuador Prisons Director Pablo Ramírez announced Friday that over-crowding in the country’s prisons has been “substantially reduced.” He said prisons are currently 8 percent over capacity, down from 27 percent in December 2021.

“By releasing thousands of prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes we have greatly improved security in our institutions,” he said. “We are also continuing our program of adding security guards and providing crisis training for current staff.”

Ecuador’s public prisons have been plagued by violence since 2020, with more than 300 inmates killed in riots.

Fake license, vax card mills investigated
Prosecutors are investigating operations in Quito, Cuenca and Machala that produced illegal documents, including driver’s licenses, vaccine cards and business and professional licenses. According to a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office, the operators worked with contacts within the government to officially register the documents.

The prosecutor, who asked to remain unnamed, said most of the counterfeit documents were driver’s licenses and professional licenses although Covid-19 vaccination cards and registrations were produced in Cuenca and Quito, with many of them sold to foreign residents. “We are in the process of coordinating names and cedulas at this point to determine culpability,” he said.

The prosecutor said information for the investigation was provided by a “public-spirited internet hacker” and said arrests are expected by the end of July or early August.

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