One month after landslide, Alausí counts 49 dead; Massive condo project left abandoned; Gov’t may ask China for new loan; Impeachment vote imminent
More than 49 bodies have been recovered at the scene of the Alausí landslide one month after the disaster. According to Ecuador’s Risk Management Secretariat, at least 39 people remain missing at the 24-hectare site on the north side of Alausí.
According to the Alausí Fire Department, the search for victims has been “continuous” during the past month. It said heavy rain and concerns of additional landslides have stopped work on a number of occasions. “It is our mission to find and account for everyone lost in this catastrophe and we will not stop until this is accomplished,” the department said in statement Tuesday.
According to risk management officials, the deadly landslide destroyed or damaged more than 200 homes, leaving more than 500 people homeless. In total, it says that 1,034 people have been “severely affected” by the disaster.
In addition to private homes, the landslide destroyed a school, the city’s football stadium and a large percentage of the municipal water and sewage systems.
Massive Cuenca housing project left abandoned
One of the largest housing projects in Cuenca history lies abandoned in the city’s Monay sector. According to local residents, there has been no construction work on the 600-unit Rieles de Monay project in almost five years and the site is subject to vagrancy and vandalism.
The consortium of owners has refused to answer questions about the project’s status and the funding agency, the Bank of the Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security, will only say that “contractual obstacles” are responsible for the lengthy work stoppage. “Regarding your request for information regarding Rieles de Monay, there are some actions that must be fulfilled prior to project reactivation, such as concluding processes, liquidating contracts, making reports, studies, among others,” a BIESS spokesman said in response to questions from the El Mercurio newspaper.
Construction began on the $24 million project in 2014 and most of the infrastructure and buildings were completed when work stopped in 2018. According to an unnamed employee at BIESS, several project contractors were not paid for their work and have filed legal claims. In addition, an unknown number of condo buyers say the 50% down payments they made have not been refunded.
The project offered one-bedroom condos beginning at $60,000 and two-bedroom units starting at $75,000.
Impeachment vote imminent
According to opponents of President Guillermo Lasso, a vote to impeach and dismiss the president could come in the National Assembly as soon as May 18. Correísta Assemblywoman Viviana Veloz and Social Christian Esteban Torres say a final vote date will be set by Assembly President Virgilio Saquicela, a supporter of impeachment.
On Tuesday, the Assembly’s Audit Commission concluded its meetings, taking more testimony from supporters and opponents of Lasso.
According to Veloz, full debate in the Assembly is ready to begin. “We are starting the final stages of the process, opening discussion to all members of the National Assembly,” she said. “At the latest, we will take a final vote by May 21.”
It is unclear if Lasso’s opponents have the 92 votes necessary for impeachment. Leadership of the Correista UNES bloc claim they have 96 while supporters of the president say there are only 87 or 88.
Lasso has said he will invoke the cross death, dissolving the Assembly, if he believes he will be impeached. Under constitutional rules of the cross death, new elections would be called for both the Assembly and presidency, a process expected to take six to seven months, during which time Lasso would be allowed to rule by decree.
New Chinese loan a possibility
Economy Minister Pablo Arosemena says the government may ask Chinese banks for a loan to balance the national budget. “We have not ruled out any source of funding to finance government expenses,” he said Friday.
According to Arosemena, the country needs $7.5 billion to meet its financial needs in 2023. “We are in discussons with a number of entities, including the International Monetary Fund and the Chinese government as part of our due diligence,” he said. He added that if the government decides to ask Chinese banks for funding, loans would be repaid in precious metals or oil. “We are looking, obviously, for the best terms and rates available.”
Ecuador currently owes Chinese banks more than $5 billion. Most of those loans, taken during the administration of former president Rafael Correa, are being repaid in oil. The last loan from China, for $900 million, was made in 2019 during the Lenin Moreno government.