In an interview with Guayaquil newspaper El Universo, President-elect Guillermo Lasso admits that he faces massive challenges when he assumes office in three weeks. He talks about the urgent need to vaccinate Ecuadorians against the Covid-19 virus, to reduce the skyrocketing poverty rate and to resurrect a struggling economy. He also explains how he can respect the Constitutional Court’s decision to allow abortion in the case of rape while he opposes it personally.
What are the priorities in your first 100 days in office?
My priorities are to eliminate hunger faced by some Ecuadorian families; fight the poverty that affects 33% of the population; generate employment by promoting investment because only three out of 10 Ecuadorians who are able to work have a decent job; fight against gender violence and femicide; reform the Higher Education Law to allow students the freedom to choose their careers; send a Freedom of Expression Law to the National Assembly repealing the current communication law. In addition, and most important, I want to vaccinate nine million people in my first three months in office. In general, my priorities are economic, political and social, including health.
Outgoing President Lenín Moreno has told you that ‘the table is not table set’ and that he is leaving you with a financial shortfall. How can you achieve your priorities under the circumstances?
Many of my plans do not require more money: the Higher Education Law changes do not require new resources Neither does the Communication or Traffic Laws, which I want to change, or a new government code of ethics. You can make many changes to government and society without the need for financial resources.
Finance Minister Mauricio Pozo says there will be unpaid debts when you take office May 24. What do you know about this?
We will only understand this when we are in office. The picture is not clear.
Your biggest campaign promise is to vaccinate nine million people in one hundred days. Do you understand the current government’s vaccination program and the arrangements it has already made?
I wish this were clear but despite the fact my transition team has had several meetings with current officials we have limited information on the project. What I can tell you is that China has delivered one million doses and promises another million, for which I am grateful, but we need at least seven million more. I have also made requests with the Russian ambassador for Sputnik V vaccines and we are awaiting a response. I have discussed this with the U.S. Secretary of State, and explained our objective for rebuilding the economy and the social fabric requires an effective vaccination program, and have asked him to sell us more doses. The secretary estimates that in June there will be a better balance between supply and demand globally, and that about 60 million vaccines will be donated. In addition, I have spoken with friendly governments like Chile and asked for assistance with vaccines.
The Russian and Chinese vaccines still do not have the permits from the Arcsa [Ecuador’s drug review agency]. How will this be resolved?
We will take steps to get these approved immediately since they already have the endorsement of the World Health Organization. This is one of many bureaucratic issues we face in fighting the pandemic.
Is the lack of information about the vaccines repeated in other areas of the governmental transition process?
It saddens me to say but the answer is yes. Although there is good faith on the part of the vice president, who leads the current government’s transition team, we feel we are not getting entirely reliable information. At the same time, I have decided to create an executive unit led by Carlos Cueva, to help in the vaccination process, ad honorem, coordinating with the Ministry of Health and the Foreign Ministry.
It is my intention to be personally involved in the vaccination program, personally and through my delegates. In addition to the vaccines themselves, we need an effective epidemiological plan and a logistics plan.
If the Covid-19 cases continue at a high level, how will you handle states of emergency, lockdowns and restrictions on mobility? There is a proposed law currently before the Assembly to regulate these aspects; have you reviewed it?
I do not want to speculate on the impact of the new law. The key factor to control the pandemic is vaccination, and this will be my focus. It is essential for the reactivation of the economy. On the other hand, I have contacted the United Nations to replicate the practices of the countries that have managed the pandemic the best and intend to follow these best practices.
Have you been vaccinated?
No. After I vaccinate nine million people I will get my own.
Who do you think will preside over the National Assembly?
The one chosen by the Assembly members. That is their power. What I can tell you is that César Monge, who is the president of my party, CREO, has been in charge of dialogs with different sectors.
Are the dialogs also with the Correistas? Assemblyman Francisco Jiménez has talked about a pardon for Rafael Correa. Is that so?
Let me be clear. I will never protect or favor anyone, nor will I grant impunity to anyone or persecute anyone or intervene in a trial. Those who are in jail, let them stay there. Those who have a sentence should pay their due. That said, we must be open to dialog with all Ecuadorians, not just the 52% who voted for us. In this political climate, you have to talk to everyone without crossing the red lines that I mentioned.
What will be the methodology for dialogs with the citizens?
On May 24, I will present my bill on Freedom of Expression but I will not send it directly to the Assembly but will allow it to be discussed with civil society and the media so everyone can submit an opinion, improve the project and reform articles or wording that should be improved. For this, there will be a deadline of 30 or 60 days. We have been sold the idea that the president can do everything, but we need a vibrant civil society that is part of the analysis and the solution of problems.
Will there be any institutional framework to promote these dialogs?
Today, there are more means than ever to communicate with citizens, such as social networks. I will try not to bureaucratize the dialog. I and my ministers will appear before the people, the media, meet with the unions, listen to those who think differently so we can improve our product.
Regarding the Constitutional Court ruling that decriminalizes abortion in cases of rape, you say you personally disagree but will respect and abide by the decision. Explain this.
I am Catholic, Apostolic and Roman and have always tried to live with the principles of the church. I defend life from conception to natural death and I have not changed my mind. However, as president, I will respect the point of view of different sectors, including the judiciary. I do not agree with the ruling, but as a democrat and republican I recognize the authority of the court and respect it. When the Assembly debates revisions to the law reflecting the court’s judgment, the CREO block will express its point of view.