IESS should hike fees, add members, official says; Law offices raided in Metastasis case; Investigation of prison ‘torture’ ordered; Ecuador responds to Russia

Feb 14, 2024 | 0 comments

The new president of Ecuador’s Social Security Institute (IESS) is recommending “drastic and immediate” changes to the system. “Our members need to pay more and remain in the system longer to ensure the sustainability of pensions and health services,” according to Eduardo Peña.

In addition, Peña says that more independent workers should be recruited for the system. “A majority of those who work outside of the corporate structure are not enrolled and this should change,” he said. “We must also recruit more young workers.”

A judge has ordered the Ombudsman’s Office to investigate claims that inmates have been tortured in several Ecuadorian prisons.

In particular, Peña says that budget shortfalls have taken a toll on IESS health services. “We have been able to pay our pensioners but have been forced to reduce personnel and services at our hospitals and clinics which, in some cases, has resulted in harm on our members.”

Peña said he is working with the government to collect a debt of almost $11 billion to the system. “We understand this will not be paid in the short term but recovering it is essential for restoring full health to IESS,” he said.

Peña says IESS currently has 3.2 million working members and supports another 600,000 retirees.

Lawyer’s office raided in Metastasis case
The Attorney General’s office has conducted three raids to collect evidence in a money laundering investigation. The raids, part of the Operation Metastasis corruption case, targeted the law offices of Guayaquil attorney Bibian Hernández, who has provided legal representation to the Citizens Revolution political movement and to former president Rafael Correa.

In May 2023, journalists Christian Zurita and Marlon Puertas reported that Hernández participated in a “covert operation for Correismo operatives to finance a propaganda news site,” La Posta, with Citizens Revolution funds. Zurita, who replaced assassinated presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio on the Construye Party ticket last year, said his information was provided by Villavicencio. In their article, Zurita and Puertas claimed that La Posta was established through Medios de Comunicación Digitales Especializada Mecdies S.A., one of several companies headed by Hernández.

The Attorney General’s office did not say if allegations made by Zurita and Puertas were part of its investigation.

Hernández is mentioned on several occasions in the prison phone and text conversations of gang leader Leandro Norero, alias “El Patrón,” the central figure in the Metastasis investigation. In his comments, Norero said that Hernández is “a person who can help us with the judges.”

There have been 41 arrests so far in Operation Metastasis, most of them of government officials, including judges, police commanders and prison administrators.

Investigation of prison ‘torture’ ordered
Constitutional Court Judge Manuel Peña has asked the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate alleged cases of torture and mistreatment of prison inmates by armed forces personnel. Families of inmates claim that “acts of torture have occurred in Ecuador’s prisons” and inmates have been beaten, deprived of medical care, adequate sleeping conditions, exercise time and other rights.

Peña has given the Ombudsman’s Office 45 days to investigate the cases.

The judge urged “the command of the armed forces to respect the law and frame their actions with respect for dignity.” In addition, he pointed out that the National Prison Authority (SNAI) is required to “provide mattresses, access to electricity, drinking water, food, toiletries and personal hygiene” to prisoners without requirement of payment.

Ecuador responds to Russian claims about ‘scrap metal’
Ecuador responded Saturday to Russian claims that Soviet-era military equipment it sent to the U.S. was still in operating condition and could be used against Russian troops in Ukraine. Ecuador has called the equipment “scrap metal” and is trading it to the U.S. in exchange for support in its war against drug traffickers.

“We believe the material in question was obsolete when it arrived,” says Army General Gustavo Ricardo. “When we asked for replacement parts, we were told they were no longer manufactured and advised to discard the equipment. We have the documents to prove this,” he said. “It was unusable and we were forced to put the items in storage, where they deteriorated further.”

Russia is claiming that Ecuador violated an agreement by sending the equipment, which includes armaments, radar equipment and vehicles, to the U.S.

Ricardo added that even in working condition, the equipment is outdated and no longer suitable for use in a military setting. “Similar pieces have been used in the conflict in Ukraine and Russian commanders have complained that it is ineffective and has resulted in the loss of lives.”

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