Lasso plans new decree for El Niño relief; El Centro merchants ask: Where are the police?; Train routes to be reactivated; Illegal mining is targeted

Jun 23, 2023 | 8 comments

President Guillermo Lasso announced Wednesday he is preparing a decree law to provide funding for damages caused by the developing El Niño weather system. “The experts tell us that this could be a devastating event, especially for the country’s coastal provinces, and possibly as bad as the 1998 event. We must anticipate its effects and be prepared to provide assistance as necessary.”

In addition to the El Niño decree, Lasso will submit two others, one to protect and strengthen the management of public finances and entities such as the Central Bank and to reinforce Ecuador’s use of the U.S. dollar, and a second to make changes to procedures and rules that govern the country’s stock markets, including allowing the government to auction bonds outside of the market.

Ecuador’s Transportation Ministry announced it will restart the Sierra Centro and the Devil’s Nose train lines by the end of 2023.

In addition to allocating emergency funding, the El Niño decree will send heavy equipment to the coastal region for the repair of roads, utilities and other infrastructure that could be affected by floods and high ocean tides. It will also make ready government aircraft for evacuations, if necessary. In addition, it will temporarily eliminate or reduce tariffs on the importation of goods and equipment needed during the emergency and provide debt relief to businesses and individuals suffering losses due to weather damage.

“We hope the measures to be installed will not be needed but it would be irresponsible not to plan for the El Niño meteorologists say is imminent.” Lasso said.

El Centro merchants ask: Where are the police?
Business owners in Cuenca’s historic district are demanding that more police be assigned to night patrols, citing recent break-ins. “We notice the increase of law enforcement personnel on the streets during daylight hours but we see very few at night,” said Adrián Alvarado, Cuenca Chamber of Commerce Director. “Since most burglaries and assaults happen at night we need a reallocation of resources.”

About a dozen business owners gathered Thursday at the Parque Calderon glorieta to demand more protection from the National Police and the Cuenca Citizen Guard. “On Tuesday night, a cell phone store just steps from here on Luis Cordero was robbed of more than $40,000 in merchandise and cameras show that the thieves were active at the site for more than 15 minutes,” said store owner Jorge Zeas during the rally. “If police had been assigned to the area this would not have happened.”

Alvarado said he has scheduled meetings with the National Police command and municipal officials to discuss the problem.

Train routes to be reactivated
The Ministry of Transportation and Public Works has announced plan to resume service on two train routes by the end of 2023. The routes are the Sierra Centro line in the Riobamba-Colta area, and the Devil’s Nose line in Alausí. Both were discontinued at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Transportation Minister Darío Herrera said reactivating the two routes will provide a boost to the economies of Riobamba and Alausí. “These are especially important to the tourism sectors in these communities and the Sierra Centro route also serves transportation needs of residents.”

He added: “Resumption of the Devil’s Nose train service is critical to Alausí’s recovery from the tragic landslide that took so many lives in March. It will provide employment and hope for the people of that community.”

New measures against illegal mining announced
President Guillermo Lasso has named retired army Colonel Luis Patricio Bonilla to head the effort to fight illegal mining in Ecuador. “Eliminating illegal mining is essential for attracting legitimate and responsible mining contractors to the country, Lasso said. “It is also critical to eliminate the criminal organizations involved and stopping the crime they are responsible for.”

Fernando Benalcázar, former Deputy Minister of Mines and a spokesman for the mining industry, said that the extent of illegal mining is a deterrent to mining companies to invest in the country. “Our efforts to control and reduce illegal mining and the violence associated with it is crucial for building confidence in the international mining market,” he said. “Investors are looking to the government to provide controls against illegal activity.”

Bonilla, who will head the Agency for Regulation and Control of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, said military forces would be deployed in greater numbers to shut down illegal mines. “Our actions in the coming months will send a message to criminal elements that illegality in the mining sector will not be tolerated. We will close their operations, confiscate their equipment and arrest those involved.

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