By Marco Teruggi – Feb 28, 2021
Ecuador went from electoral debate to counting deaths and grief. It happened on Tuesday night with aftershocks until Friday: several riots in four of the country’s prisons left 78 dead. It was not only the violence, but the form: people decapitated, burned, dismembered with chainsaws, grinders, with body parts ripped off. The horror, filmed and broadcast on social networks.
Alongside images of violence reminiscent of that which has become customary in countries such as Colombia with paramilitarism, the screens showed day after day of desperate relatives, crying, praying and denouncing the state’s inoperativeness. The government, accustomed to reacting late to crises, did what it usually does: deny all responsibility and accuse Correismo of being behind the events.
“It was organized from outside the prisons and internally orchestrated by those who dispute the leadership and drug trafficking throughout the national territory (…) the coincidence with the recent denunciation by the Colombian press about the alleged financing of the ELN to political campaigns in Ecuador—to Andrés Arauz—is no coincidence, it is very serious that there is drug money in the political scenario of the country,” said President Lenin Moreno in a message.
Moreno, who pointed out that the overcrowding of prisons is the result of his fight against crime, did not mention something that most political actors, analysts and specialists highlighted: the reduction of the budget for the prison system with all its consequences, the elimination of ministries such as Security, and the recent history of massacres in several of the country’s prisons.
The events made headlines on all of Ecuador’s news programs, within a system of television channels that broadcast little or nothing of what is happening in the country. However, while attention was focused on these traumatic events for prisoners, their families and the country, the dispute continued within the electoral process that had its first round on February 7, and will have the second round on April 11 between Andrés Arauz, candidate of the Citizens’ Revolution, and Guillermo Lasso, candidate of the CREO alliance and the Social Christian Party.
The result of the first round continues to be challenged by Yaku Pérez, third in the race, who arrived on Tuesday outside the National Electoral Council (CNE) in Quito, accompanied by a mobilized crowd. There, he announced the presentation to the electoral authorities of irregularities in 16,000 of a total of 39,000 voting records, a figure he later expanded to 20,000. According to Pérez and the Pachakutik party, the fraud would have robbed him of second place and, therefore, his passage to the second round.
Pérez’s complaint took a twist on Friday night, when the CNE announced that it had found irregularities in only 31 of the submitted tally sheets, which in reality had not been 16,000, with alleged “numerical inconsistencies and missing signatures,” but 7,233, of which 1,453 were repeated.
In this way, NEC closed the fraud complaint filed by Pérez. The Pachakutik candidate had already anticipated that, in the event of such a result, he would file an appeal before the Electoral Disputes Tribunal, and would insist on the request for an audit presented to the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the reported fraud. In addition, the Confederation of Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador (Ecuarunari), which mobilized with Pérez and is part of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), announced on Friday night, following a crackdown, the start of a national strike.
The announcement of new measures of struggle was, however, marked by simultaneous news about the division between Pérez, backed by Pachakutik and Ecuarunari, with two of the main leaders of the Conaie: Jaime Vargas and Leónidas Iza, both main protagonists, unlike Pérez, during the October 2019 uprising. Iza, for example, did not back the allegation of fraud, and attributed Pérez’s failure to reach the ballot to “a poorly thought-out strategy at the national level.”
Pérez’s possibilities for street pressure without the support of an important sector of the Conaie appear limited, as was evident in the streets of Quito and at some protest points around the country during the week. As for the Conaie, the movement officially announced that it will state its political position in the run-up to the ballot in an enlarged council to be held on March 10.
Thus, the threats that still exist against the electoral process, and in particular Arauz’s candidacy, are to be found in the Attorney General’s Office, both because of the attempt to carry out an audit, and because of the international operation mounted via the Colombian Attorney General’s Office and the magazine Semana against the candidate of the Citizen’s Revolution, to accuse him of having been financed by the Colombian ELN. Pérez, markedly anti-Correista, said of this accusation that “if Arauz’s candidacy does not fall before April, then he will fall for having received illicit money from narco-politics.”
In the face of the attempted audit by the Prosecutor’s Office, Unión por la Esperanza, the coalition for which Arauz is the candidate, announced that it had presented a request for constitutional precautionary measures to suspend the proceedings ordered by the Prosecutor in the investigation into alleged electoral fraud. The coalition’s communiqué pointed out that the attempted audit threatens the dates of the second round, as well as being an interference by an authority outside the elections.
Thus, three weeks after the first round of elections, there are still threats to the electoral process, a situation that has been denounced both inside and outside the country. This danger was made clear, for example, in the joint declaration by the presidents of Mexico and Argentina, Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Alberto Fernández, who agreed to “closely follow the electoral processes in the region, such as the one currently underway in Ecuador, hoping that it will be completed in a timely manner and guarantee democratic continuity.” Luis Arce, President of Bolivia, later publicly endorsed the declaration.
The coming days and weeks will be marked by possible new developments in a decisive election for the country and the region. On the table is the possibility that Ecuador will return to a progressive and Latin Americanist project with Arauz, or move towards a neoliberal deepening with Lasso. Moreno, who backs Lasso, is trying in this context to condition the economic future with a last-minute measure; the privatization of the Central Bank.
Featured image: Relatives of inmates awaiting news at Ecuador prison. Photo: EPA/EFE.