Insecurity and battle with lawmakers cloud Ecuadorian Lasso presidency


By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso’s efforts to tackle insecurity and economic woes amid growing violence and fierce legislative opposition are failing, putting foreign investment at risk, analysts and residents say.

Lasso, a former banker who took office a year ago, has promised to fight crime, revive a coronavirus-battered economy and attract investment – especially in oil and mining.

He spurred economic recovery with a billion-dollar COVID vaccination program and his fiscal measures reduce the high deficit, garnering praise from the International Monetary Fund.

But those achievements have been overshadowed by high levels of violence – which Lasso says is a response to his open fight against drug traffickers – prison riots that have left hundreds dead and vehement opposition to the National Assembly to its investment and security proposals.

The violence and legislative battles could scare off investors, analysts say.

“There is a lot of interest in investing in Ecuador,” said Ramiro Crespo, president of financial advisory firm Analytica Securities. “But clearly the struggle in the assembly casts doubt on the stability of the presidency…investors will view the medium-term outlook with some suspicion.”

Last month, the Assembly rejected a bill Lasso said would help it create two million jobs, and lawmakers warned they would reject a labor reform the government is still planning.

Lasso accused lawmakers, including some who initially backed him and others close to leftist former President Rafael Correa, of blocking his efforts and threatened to rule by decree. Opposition lawmakers allege that Lasso intends to privatize public infrastructure and services.

“It’s an opposition that is not constructive,” said political analyst Arturo Moscoso. “It’s not that Lasso isn’t getting things done, the political scenario is complicated.”

“Which company is going to send its employees to a country where there is so much insecurity?” he added. “It doesn’t help recovery at all.”

TIME WILL TELL US

The government says it has received private investment commitments of about $5 billion and improved the number of unemployed despite the legacy of disorderly finances, debt, prison violence and institutional corruption.

“Lasso knows what is best for the country and needs time. In time things will be resolved,” presidential adviser Diego Ordonez told Reuters. “The president wants to govern to solve jobs and security issues, spend public resources in an efficient, orderly and above all honorable way.”

Many Ecuadorians are frustrated with what they say is Lasso’s slowness, causing his credibility rating to plummet to 21% in the last week of April, according to pollster Perfiles de Opinion, from 68% when he took office.

“A year of unemployment, insecurity and death in prisons is what we have,” said informal secretary Viviana Palacios, 34, who lives in Guayaquil, where 1,100 police reinforcements have been deployed. in January amid a wave of violent deaths. . “Lasso has proven his inability to bear weight.”

About half of Ecuadorians work informally, according to government figures, and 23% are considered underemployed.

“Since the vaccination plan, there has been no other significant achievement,” Perfiles director Paulina Recalde said. “The problems that citizens were enduring have worsened and insecurity has been exacerbated.”

Prison riots have killed 270 people over the past year, while killings reached 1,241 nationwide in April, 90% of the total recorded in 2020 and 49% of the total in 2021.

Lasso used emergency powers to restrict movement in violence-hit provinces, deployed hundreds of troops and replaced security officials.

But his actions are too lukewarm, former Army intelligence director Mario Pazmino said.

“There needs to be a total overhaul of the intelligence system,” said Pazmino, who says border patrol efforts should expand to tackle transnational drug trafficking.

“Everyone asks the state for security, but the state pays no attention to it.”

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Additional reporting by Yury Garcia in Guayaquil; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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