In surprise visit to Cuenca, Lasso pledges tram support; U.S. may revoke more visas; Fauci praises Ecuador; Lasso is noncommittal on new abortion law
In an unannounced visit to Cuenca Wednesday afternoon, President Guillermo Lasso summoned area mayors, parochial officials and the Azuay prefect to a meeting at the government building on Parque Calderon.
Lasso met collectively and individually with officials, including Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios and Azuay Prefect Cecilia Méndez, in what his press secretary called “information gathering sessions.” The President arrived in Cuenca at 3 p.m. and concluded his talks at 7:30.
In his meeting with Palacios, Lasso confirmed that the national government would assume payment of a $35 million debt to France for construction of Cuenca’s tram system. Lasso had made the commitment during the presidential campaign but the agreement has not been formalized. On Thursday, Azuay Governor Matias Abad confirmed the agreement and said documents for the payments will be signed soon.
U.S. repeats visa cancellation threat
The U.S. will continue to cancel visas of Ecuadorians involved in drug trafficking, U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Michael Fitzpatrick said Friday. He also said the issue of high ranking military and police officers involved in drug transport and other forms of corruption was an impediment to signing a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Ecuador.
“We are continuing our effort to revoke visas of all of those involved in moving illegal drugs to the United States and we have cancelled many visas already,” Fitzpatrick said. “Whether they work in government offices and hold high ranks of authority, or in the streets, we’re going to remove their visas because we have this right and we don’t want criminals entering the U.S.”
In December, the U.S. announced that it had begun suspending visas of military and police officers as well as several judges it had determined were involved in the drug trade. Since then, Ecuador’s interior ministry has accepted the resignation of several police officers and says investigations are ongoing.
Lasso is noncommittal on abortion law
President Guillermo Lasso said Friday that he will to take his time to decide to sign, veto or partially veto legislation passed by the National Assembly to allow abortion in the case of rape. By law, he has 30 days to make a decision.
“As I have said many times, my religious faith teaches me to respect life from conception,” he said. He added that he respects the decision of the Constitutional Court that abortion must be allowed in cases of rape.
“I will carefully consider the law that has been passed but read it carefully to make certain it does not exceed the order of the court,” he said.
By a vote of 75 to 41, with 13 abstentions, the Assembly approved the abortion law on Thursday allowing abortions for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and 18 weeks for children and women living in rural areas.
Machinery ‘kidnapped’ in the Cajas
The company reconstructing the highway through the Cajas mountains west of Cuenca reported that several pieces of heavy equipment were “kidnapped” Friday afternoon by protesters complaining about slow progress of the project. Construction contractor Sudinco, said that a grader and two tractors were seized on the highway before police and Transportation Ministry personnel arrived to retrieve it.
Residents of the Molleturo community have complained that the construction work and reopening of the highway between Cuenca and Guayaquil is progressing at an “unreasonably slow rate.” Two weeks ago, the Ministry announced that the project would take 40 days longer than originally planned due unanticipated engineering problems.
Fauci congratulates Ecuador for vaccine success
Anthony Fauci, medical adviser of the U.S. White House, congratulated Ecuador Friday for the success of its vaccination program. In a video conference with Vice President Alfredo Borrero, Fauci pointed out that Ecuador has one of the highest vaccination rates in Latin America, and a “much higher rate” than the U.S.
“Mr. Vice President, I must congratulate you for the fact that your country has such a high rate of vaccination. Your people have done a considerably better job than we have. I wish that in the United States we had the same level of compliance with the vaccination recommendations that you have been able to achieve in Ecuador,” Fauci said. He added that Ecuador’s fast recovery from the pandemic is proof vaccine effectiveness..
Almost 90 percent of Ecuadorians have received a one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine while 84 percent have received two.