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UN warns of prejudice against Venezuelans and Colombians, cites incident in Cuenca

The United Nations office in Quito is urging the government to take steps to curb a “climate of growing xenophobia” in Ecuador. The UN said that President Lenin Moreno’s plan to make it easier to deport foreigners with criminal records has added to a climate of prejudice that is leading to crime and housing and job discrimination.

A rental sign in Cuenca’s historic district includes a prohibition against foreigners

On its official Twitter account, the UN said that foreigners, especially refugees from Venezuela and Colombia, report an increasing number of incidents of rejection by Ecuadorians. In particular, one Tweet cited recent events in Ibarra, Quito, Cuenca and Riobamba as “expressing xenophobia toward foreigners.” The UN statement, issued February 8, is similar to earlier ones addressed to the governments of Chile and Peru, where large populations of Venezuelans live.

On February 4, Moreno asked the National Assembly to amend current laws to make it easier and quicker to deport foreigners who commit crimes in Ecuador or who have a criminal record in other countries. His request followed a high-profile murder in Quito in which a young Venezuelan killed an Ecuadorian woman. Moreno also cited a December case of a Venezuelan who killed a North American woman in Cuenca. “The way in which the president expressed his position is in opposition to Ecuador’s stated policy of being a country without borders that respects the mobility of people of all nationalities,” the UN said. “He has the right to protect the citizens of his country but not to inflame passions following sensational crimes.”

The UN added said that Moreno’s comments provided few details of how changes to the law would help stop crimes by foreigners against Ecuadorians and appeared to appeal to “increasing anti-foreigner sentiment in the country.”

Leaders of the National Assembly say Moreno’s request is unlikely to become law since he lacks a majority coalition.

Although the UN Tweets did not mention other specific cases, a recent incident in Cuenca which was widely reported on social media, was probably one of them. In January, a property owner on Calle Tomás Ordóñez near Rafael María Arízaga in Cuenca’s historic district posted a rental sign on a second-floor apartment that included a “no extranjeros” warning. When asked about the sign by a newspaper reporter, the owner admitted that she was referring to Venezuelans and Colombians. “North Americans are welcome,” she said.

After photos of the sign appeared on social media and following a visit from Verónica Aguirre, the Cuenca ombudsman for human rights, the owner removed it and said it was a mistake. “The problem is that the damage is already done by its expression of insensitivity toward a particular group of foreigners,” Aguirre said. She added that her office is surveying rental advertisement in the city in search of other cases of housing discrimination, which is illegal under Ecuadors constitution.

Ecuador’s Ministry of Interior estimates that there are about 400,000 Venezuelans living in Ecuador, almost all of them arriving since 2018 and that 10,000 live in Cuenca. The ministry also says about 70,000 Colombian refugees are in Ecuador with about 5,000 in Cuenca.