The National Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to dismiss Interior Minister María Paula Romo following an acrimonious debate centered on her handling of the October 2019 national protests. The decision brought together the political right and left in what observers say is a preview of the February 2021 election.
“The impeachment and firing of Minister Romo is simply table setting for the election, with all sides taking shots at an unpopular government,” said Carlos Fernandez, a former government minister. “Romo is simply a prop in the lead-up to the election and most of those voting against her understand were well aware of this.”
Saying he disagreed with the dismissal, President Lenin Moreno said he accepted the verdict. “I believe the minister did an excellent job in leading the country through the coronavirus pandemic and handling the difficult situation in October 2019 and I regret the Assembly’s action,” he said. “These are difficult times, however, and we will move on in our duties of governance.”
Supporters of Romo called the charges against her were frivolous and that the use expired tear gas against protesters did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. “How could she know the expiration dates of products in a police warehouse? She was simply doing her job in ordering the police to keep the peace,” said Noralma Zambrano. “No one presented evidence that outdated tear gas causes any more damage than other tear gas. Tear gas is intended to inflict temporary harm on people who break the law. It is not lemonade.”
Zambrano added: “What was the minister supposed to do? Stand back and let the thugs burn down Quito?”
In addition to the use of tear gas, Romo was also accused of using excessive force on protesters and mismanagement of a hospital scandal, but Fernandez says that no credible evidence agaisnt Romo was presented in either case. “Ultimately, it seemed to come down to the tear gas, which indicates that that the entire impeachment was political stunt.”
Romo reacted angrily to the verdict, saying she was “honored to be dismissed by a band of scoundrels.” In a statement following the 104 to 18 Assembly vote, she said: “I leave my duties knowing that those voting against me were key players in the Odebrecht affair, in the attempted coup against an elected government, in the thievery of Coopera in Cuenca and in the illegal sale of Hotel Quito. I will wear your no confidence vote as a badge of honor.”
Late Tuesday night, Moreno appointed Vice Interior Minister Patricio Pazmiño Castillo to replace Romo.