Protesters demand quick fix for Cajas highway; Radar site explosion could be drug cartel attack; Liquor tax hike proposed; Lasso respects high court decision

Nov 8, 2021 | 9 comments

Residents of the Molleturo parish met Friday and Saturday with national transportation officials who promised that work would begin soon to repair the Cuenca-Molleturo-Guayaquil highway. The residents of the Cajas mountains community claim the government has not moved quickly enough to repair landslide damage to the highway that connects businesses and markets in the area.

A Friday rockslide near the Molleturo community closed the highway between Cuenca and Guayaquil. It is one of dozens of slides in the area since early August.

The highway was closed again Saturday and Sunday due to a landslide that blocked the roadway, one of dozens of closures affecting traffic flow since early August. Motorists were advised to take the alternative route to the coast from Cuenca, through Azogues, Biblián, Zhud and La Troncal.

On Friday, prior to the landslide, protesters from Molleturo blocked the highway, claiming the government was delaying reconstruction work. During the weekend meetings, Carolina Ormaza, Deputy Minister for Infrastructure, told residents that engineering studies are underway to determine the best solution to the problem that has plagued the highway since it opened 20 years ago. “We will complete the studies in a few weeks and immediately begin work that will provide a permanent answer,” she said. “I promise you we are working as fast as possible and that repairing the highway is a national priority.”

Ormaza said that the project involves stabilizing the mountainside above the highway using concrete and steel mesh and constructing a series of concrete berms. She said that once construction begins, the work will take about four months to complete.

Explosion at radar site could be drug cartel attack
Ecuador’s Ministry of Defense reported that an explosion occurred early Sunday morning at a radar station near Montecristi in Manabí Province. The radar was recently installed as part of the government’s plan to identify small aircraft transporting illegal drugs to clandestine landing strips near the Pacific coast.

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Police say the explosion appears to be an “act of terrorism,” possibly carried out by Mexican drug cartels. Investigators say they have not yet determined the extent of the damage to radar equipment and adjacent structures.

Producers and sellers object to liquor tax hike proposal
Producers and sellers say the additional tax proposed for alcoholic beverages will lead to increased smuggling and illegal production. President Guillermo Lasso’s tax reform legislation, sent to the National Assembly last week, would increase the tax on a liter of pure alcohol from $7.18 to $10 per liter.

Pablo Zambrano, president of the Ecuador Chamber of Industries and Production, claims the tax hike will punish legitimate distillers and benefit smugglers and informal liquor makers. “In the past, high liquor taxes have encouraged the illegal market and put legal producers out of business. We will fight this proposal and protect our industry,” he said.

The president’s office responded to the complaints, claiming that the tax would add only a dollar to the price of a typical bottle of liquor. “We are not suggesting a return to the extravagant liquor taxation levels of the Rafael Correa era. We consider this proposal a modest increase that can be absorbed by businesses and consumers without major disruption to the industry.”

Lasso respects court’s state of emergency decision
President Guillermo Lasso said Saturday that he “understands and respects” the decision of the Constitutional Court to reduce the scope of the state of emergency he declared October 18. “As a strong believer in the democratic process, I will abide by the ruling of the court although I disagree with it,” the president said. “We will employ other methods to combat the drug and crime crisis we currently face.”

In its Thursday decision, the court reduced the term of the state of emergency from 60 days to 30 and said it could only apply to the coastal and Amazonian provinces that have experienced an increase in criminal activity.

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