Thousands of Venezuelans head home; Cuenca restaurant earns int’l distinction; Moreno pledges corruption-free vaccine distribution; Suicides soar
More than 500 Venezuelans have taken humanitarian flights from Ecuador to Venezuela since the beginning of November. The group is part of an estimated 100,000 who have left Ecuador for Venezuela since mid-2019, according to the Ecuador Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Organizations that assist Venezuelans in Quito and Cuenca, say the Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on refugees. “The situation is hard on everyone but many Venezuelans are homeless or living in substandard conditions and some do not have enough to eat,” says Jorge Gomez of a Quito assistance group. “As terrible as conditions are back home, many Venezuelans feel they have no choice but to return. There are no jobs in Ecuador and the outlook is not good.”
The City of Cuenca’s Foreign Affairs Office estimates there are 8,000 to 10,000 Venezuelans living in the city. The office has helped arrange two bus trips to Guayaquil during November, connecting refugees with humanitarian flights.
An estimated 260,000 live in Ecuador, according to the government, about 100,000 less than in early 2019.
Cuenca restaurant named to Latin America ‘Hero Restaurant’ list
Cuenca’s Dos Sucres restaurant, Roberto Crespo at Luis Moreno Mora, is one of four restaurants in Ecuador named to the El Espíritu de América Latina “heroes” list by the promotors of the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants competition. Led by chef Daniel Contreras, Dos Sucres serves simple Ecuadorian plates and works closely with the Yanuncay farmers’ association. Dos Sucres set up a marketplace in 2016, which evolved during the pandemic to produce family food baskets. The restaurant gives out 70 baskets a day to needy famlies.
The restaurants on the El Espíritu de América Latina are part of the 50 Best Restaurants competition, the winner of which will be announced December 3.
Indigenous want defense minister impeached
Indigenous leader Leonidas Iza is calling for the impeachment and dismissal of Ecuador Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín for his role in putting down the October 2019 protests. “We applaud the National Assembly for the firing Government Minister María Paula Romo for her violent repression of peaceful protests and we now demand the same action against Jarrín, for using military forces during the protests.”
Romo was dismissed earlier this week on charges of “violent suppression” during the protests and using tear gas that was past its expiration date, which Iza called “poison.”
Moreno says vaccine distribution will be corruption-free
President Lenin Moreno promised Wednesday that there would be “no corrupt players” in the country’s importation and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, expected to begin in January. “There will be no repeat of the corrupt chain of sales and distribution of medical supplies that we experienced earlier this year,” he said. “This is my solemn pledge. I will not let the mafias compromise the health of Ecuadorians.”
Ecuador’s public hospitals were rocked by a purchasing scandal earlier in the year in which dozens of members of a sales network were arrested for selling over-priced and sometimes outdated supplies to corrupt purchase agents. According to prosecutors, the network had operated for at least years, costing the public health system millions in excess charges.
Suicides rise during the pandemic
Cuenca ranks second to Quito in the number of suicides per capita and health officials blame the pandemic for the dramatic rise in this year. Clinical psychologist Xavier Muñoz Astudillo says the official count of 44 suicides is only a fraction of the real number since many suicides are ruled accidental by forensics agents.
“The true total is very difficult to determine due to a number of factors but it may be as high as 200,” he says. “What we are sure of is that the incidences are 200 to 300 percent higher this year as a result of the pandemic. The quarantines and lockdowns have caused the rates of depression to soar since March but many of the suffers have difficulty seeking professional help.”
On Monday, the death of a former member of the Cuenca Municipal Council and candidate for mayor in 2018 was ruled a suicide.