The United States Embassy in Quito is advising Ecuadorians to expect a six-month delay in the issuance and renewal of tourist and business visas to the U.S. The delay is blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic, which the embassy says is affecting visa and diplomatic functions worldwide. “People who want to visit Disney World will have to wait,” says U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Michael Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick acknowledged the frustration of Ecuadorians who want to visit the U.S., including those who have family and friends there. “We have received many messages expressing displeasure at the delays and we will work as hard as possible to restore normal working schedules but this depends on progress in controlling the coronavirus,” he said. “The entire world is in a crisis situation at the moment so normal functions are impossible.”
The delays also apply to those wishing to travel to the U.S. to receive Covid-19 vaccines, the ambassador said. “As I understand it, there is a sufficient supply of vaccines in Ecuador so no one is denied,” he said. “The U.S. government is donating two million doses to Ecuador, one million of which have already arrived with a second shipment to arrive next week.”
Ecuador social media has been abuzz with complaints about visa delays, with many posters saying they were given interview dates in late 2022 or even 2023 and others saying that President Joe Biden is being more restrictive toward Ecuadorians than former President Donald Trump.
The embassy says it is continuing to process emergency applications on a “timely schedule” but warns applicants that it will investigate to determine if real emergencies exist. “Those who make false claims to receive expedited service will jeopardize future the approval of visas in the future.”
Lasso returns from Miami
President Guillermo Lasso returned to Quito Friday, three days later than planned, following spinal surgery in Miami. His return was delayed due to doctors’ recommendation that he remain at Jackson Memorial Hospital for further observation. Doctors said the procedure of “medium complexity” to remove an inflamed cyst from the spinal cord was successful.
The operation repaired damage from a back injury Lasso suffered in 2013 in Spain. According to his press secretary, the president will undergo several months of physical therapy that will not interfere with his work.
Government considers fuel price adjustments
The Interior, Transportation and Energy Ministries are exploring several options to reduce diesel and gasoline costs for bus, trucking and taxi operators. According to Minister of Transportation Marcelo Cabrera, the government will not reinstate fuel subsidies but agrees that targeted discounts must be made for businesses that provide services to the public, such as transportation and the transport of goods.
Cabrera adds that passing on fuel price increase to the public is not feasible due to the economic crisis. “Many Ecuadorians, especially the poor, cannot afford to pay higher prices given the hardships of the pandemic.”
Among the options for providing fuel discounts include the use of government-issued debit cards and reimbursement similar to that given the elderly for VAT expenses. A third option being considered is an internet-based system at gas stations that would provide lower prices to authorized transportation and trucking company card-holders.
Cabrera says that direct talks with transportation and trucking sector representatives will begin in late July.
Groups demand enforcement of Cuenca anti-mining vote
Social and environmental groups are demanding immediate enforcement of the Cuenca mining restrictions approved by voters in February. The Cuenca Coalition for Clean Water sent letters to President Guillermo Lasso and Environmental Minister Gustavo Manrique as well as cantonal and provincial officials. “We are addressing you as national and local authorities to express our concern about the lack of speed in complying with the results of the popular consultation of February 7, in which Cuenca said ‘yes to water’ in an overwhelming manner,” the coalition wrote.
Cuenca voters passed the referendum banning mining in areas of the canton affecting the watersheds of the Yanuncay, Tomebamba, Tarqui, Machángara and Norcay rivers by an 80 to 20 percent margin.
The Coalition is also demanding increased efforts to stop illegal mining which they say is occurring in at least five locations near Cuenca.