Instead of the traditional Pase del Niño parade, Cuenca’s famous Niño Viajero soared over the city in an army helicopter early Thursday morning and then took a ride in the “popemobile” used by by Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to Ecuador. In all, the Catholic archdioceses estimated that 10,000 people had chance to the see the Niño.
Last year, a crowd estimated at more than 100,000 lined Simon Bolivar for a glimpse of the polychromed Christchild as well as the thousands of costumed children and their parents who marched in the parade.
“This doesn’t seem right for Christmas,” said Jorge Iglesias who was shopping in El Centro on Thursday. “We need the parade and we need the celebration and with the pandemic getting better I don’t understand why we can’t have it.”
For all the complaints like Iglesias’s, a number of angry officials blamed police and transit personnel for not enforcing restrictions imposed last week under the new state of emergency declaration. Observers noted that the crowds in malls, grocery stores, shops and on the streets of El Centro were as large as they had ever seen. “It’s unbelievable that we are under emergency orders for a deadly disease and the large gatherings are not being controlled by the police,” former city councilman Carlos Arteaga said in a radio interview. “I have complained to three members of the COE [Emergency Operations Committee] and they seem unconcerned. They tell me they will do the enforcement next week.”
Arteaga claimed that transit police were told to ignore vehicle restrictions and the curfew. “No one in authority admits this but there is no control on the streets. All they are doing is looking our for drunks.”
Early Thursday evening, a transit officer who asked not to be identified said that police would not interfere with families gathering for traditional Christmas Eve meals and parties. “It is not our job to control Christmas,” he said.
Regional Police Commander Jorge Cabrera said that officers were doing the best they could to control crowds but said pandemic precautions are ultimately up to the citizens. “Our ability is limited in enforcing social distancing protocols and we have to rely on the people to use good sense to protect themselves and others,” he said. “We can’t post an officer at every house to make sure there are no more than 10 people inside.”
Cabrera said that Friday will be much quieter. “December 24 is Christmas in Ecuador. The 25th is a day of rest and recovery.”