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Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, managed to drag his country out of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, however, he might be too embattled on two fronts to solve the other major problems facing his South American country.
On the one hand, he is trying to put a lid on a rash of crime and violence that has swept through Ecuador. On the other, he is trying to quell an uprising by Indigenous leaders who believe his government has sold out to foreign energy companies.
Lasso declared a state of emergency in Guayaquil, the country’s largest city and financial center, after a bomb killed at least five people and injured 17 last month, the Washington Post reported. Blaming the explosion on organized criminals who have been classified as terrorists, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo called the attack a “declaration of war against the state.”
Ecuador is a transit point for drugs traveling north and south, explained InSight Crime. The bomb attack could have been a skirmish resulting from two gangs fighting over serving Mexican drug cartels and overseeing narcotics shipments out of the city’s ports.
Crime as well as inflation and soaring living costs, meanwhile, added fuel to protests over the government’s treatment of Indigenous communities, wrote International Banker. While Lasso reached an agreement in June with leaders in the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), many of the rank and file are still restive.
Lasso’s government has cut fuel prices, hiked spending on intercultural education, purchased more medicines for Indigenous communities and committed to protecting Indigenous territories from mining and oil drilling, Human Rights Watch noted.
But he has also cracked down on protesters, filed charges against Indigenous leaders and repressed mass mobilization and political dissent in general, added the North American Congress on Latin America.
Ecuador’s economic dependence on oil is one reason why Lasso can’t easily give in to Indigenous protesters’ demands, argued Ecuadoran activist Lina María Espinosa, who spoke to Mongabay, an environmental news outlet. No matter what concessions he makes, he will continue to incentivize foreign energy companies to conduct operations that often pollute the land, she argued.
That said, Lasso and Indigenous leaders have made progress in protecting some of the country’s lush Amazon rainforest, Euronews reported. One 11-million-acre protected section of the country’s jungle captures almost a billion tons of carbon annually, or the total amount of Canada’s carbon emissions for a year.
Battling criminals and environmentalists has made Lasso unpopular and politically weak, contended the Economist. Because opposition parties hold Congress, he probably won’t be able to turn any big proposals into reality, either.
Unable to satisfy his critics, Lasso faces a long three years in office.