Lasso to authorize force against ‘terrorist’ threats; Thousands protests bad highways; Warning against mob justice; Suit seeks to annul gun-carry order

Apr 28, 2023 | 21 comments

Ecuador’s Public Security Council (Cosepe) claimed Thursday that “terrorist elements” in the country pose a threat to the structural integrity of state institutions and public safety. In a statement, Cpsepe recommended that President Guillermo Lasso issue an executive decree authorizing “the use of lethal force to combat threats to the Ecuadorian people.”

Lasso, who attended the meeting in Quito, said he will follow through with a decree. “These are difficult conditions that must be met with the full support of all government entities,” he said after the meeting.

Protesters demanding the improvement of Cuenca highways heard speeches and burned tires in front of the government building on Parque Calderon on Thursday. (El Mercurio)

Recently appointed Public Security Secretary Wagner Bravo, told Cosepe that the recent wave of violent acts committed by criminal gangs justify an emergency decree. “Assaults on the public must be met with extraordinary force. We are seeing an unprecedented increase in crimes involving illegal drugs, extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking and these cannot be left unchecked.”

Thousands protests bad highway conditions
An estimated 3,000 people marched through the streets of Cuenca Thursday demanding the government repair or replace the highways leading into Cuenca. Part of the “Great Road March,” protesters represented dozens of organizations and institutions, including transportation, construction, student and workers’ unions, and business and neighborhood associations.

A convoy of more than 100 buses, trucks and taxis temporarily blocked traffic on Av. Solano and streets in the historic district as part of the protest.

March leader Víctor Quito, president of the Federation of Cuenca Neighborhoods, said protesters are seeking fair treatment of Cuenca by the national government. “We send more tax money to the government than we receive in return and we are demanding equity in the case of our highways,” he said. “Why do other cities and province have good streets and highways while ours deteriorate and are subject to incessant landslides, ground dislocations and general neglect? It is time the government fix the problem.”

Luis Torres, president of the Cuenca Restaurant and Bar Association, claimed poor sales in the tourism sector are a result of bad highways. “The recent holidays were a disaster for most of us because tourists were not able to travel to Cuenca. Our businesses and our workers depend on reliable highways to and from the city and we see no action to guarantee this.”

Public Defender, police warn against mob justice
Ecuador’s Public Defender’s Office and the National Police are warning Cuenca residents against punishing suspected criminals. “It is against the law for private citizens to apply punishment to individuals they believe committed crimes,” says César Zea, Public Defender and human rights expert.

According to police, at least four men have been captured and beaten by neighborhood vigilantes since Monday. In addition, three motorcycles and two cars believed to have been used in the commission of crimes have been destroyed or damaged.

“The law is clear that anyone suspected of criminal activity is protected by the presumption of innocence until he or she is judged by the courts,” Zea says. “Based on Ecuador’s criminal code, any person suspected of carrying out a flagrant crime who is apprehended by private citizens must be turned over to the National Police.”

Zea says the death of an informal plastic recycler in Santo Domingo last week proves the “justice and logic” of the law. “It was a tragic mistake by a mob and the two men arrested for carrying out the murder will be prosecuted.”

Lawyers want Lasso’s firearm order rescinded
A consortium of lawyers is asking the Constitutional Court to rescind President Guillermo Lasso’s decree allowing private citizens to buy and carry firearms for personal defense. In their lawsuit, the lawyers argue that the carrying and possession of lethal and firearms should be reserved for law enforcement personnel. “Allowing civilian possession and use of firearms represents a threat to the life, integrity and liberty of Ecuadorians,” the suit claims.

“We are asking the court to annul the presidential order as it poses a threat to public security,” says Alexander Barahona, president of the Center for Human Rights Research and Studies. “In making his decision, the president should have carried out a pre-legislative consultation with indigenous organizations and the National Assembly.” He added that allowing more guns in the hands of civilians will lead to more, not less, violence.

In response, Lasso’s press office said the presidential order was justified based on the increase in threats against private citizens. It said the order does not affect the established rights of indigenous people to possess weapons for hunting and fishing, as the suit claims.

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