In surprise, Correistas support Lasso’s proposal to use the military in fight against criminal gangs

Dec 9, 2022 | 13 comments

The Union of Hope bloc in the National Assembly announced Thursday that it will support President Guillermo Lasso’s plan to use the armed forces to fight organized crime. Identified with former president Rafael Correa, UNES has consistently opposed legislation proposed by Lasso.

President Guillermo Lasso holds up his crime-fighting proposal Wednesday during a rally outside the National Assembly.

The UNES announcement caught Assembly President Virgilio Saquicela by surprise after he called the president’s proposal a “cheap trick” designed to embarrass the Assembly on the issue of law enforcement. Saquicela said he is obligated to process the proposal through the Assembly but suggested it had little chance of passage.

Saquicela, who has opposed most of Lasso’s agenda and supports UNES positions, especially objected to the political rally Lasso organized outside the Assembly where he presented his plan. Hundreds of supporters cheered the president’s crime-fighting comments. Some carried signs reading “Out with narcopolitics,” a reference to claims that some members of the Assembly have ties to drug gangs.

The UNES announcement also caught its political ally in the Assembly, the right-wing Social Christians (PSC) off guard. PSC leader Esteban Torres echoed Saquicela’s objection to the legislation. “I reject the attempt to disrespect the National Assembly by the suggestion we do not support the fight against drug gangs. This does not only disrespect the Assembly but all Ecuadorians and the national flag as well,” he said.

The proposal to use the armed forces in coordination with police was dropped from Lasso’s popular referendum when the Constitutional Court ruled it must go through the National Assembly. The referendum goes before voters in February.

The majority of the indigenous Pachakutik party also announced support for Lasso’s proposal while the leadership of the Democratic Left voiced skepticism. In a statement, the party said it is reviewing the proposal but has “grave concerns of fundamentally changing the law enforcement function.”

To become law, Lasso’s proposal needs 70 votes in the National Assembly and then must be approved by voters in a referendum.

In his Wednesday rally at the Assembly, Lasso portrayed himself as a leader of the fight against crime, suggesting the Assembly has turned its back on the issue. “It is time for this National Assembly to define itself: either they are on the side of the citizens or on the side of criminals and violence,” the president said, accompanied by his wife and government ministers. He also pointed out the Assembly had granted amnesty to “hundreds of criminals” who had participated in violence against the government.

In his comments, Lasso said that an effective fight against criminal gangs will also have a “carry-on effect” with other criminal activity. “Crime is on the rise in Ecuador, not just drug crime, and if we are successful against organized gangs we will also reduce other types of crime.”