Lasso’s ‘Deadman’s Standoff’ in Ecuador
“Crossed Death” threats to dissolve the government, Albanian mobsters, and massive protests on the horizon
On May 8, eighty-eight members of Ecuador’s National Assembly voted to continue an impeachment process against right-wing President Guillermo Lasso, the deeply unpopular banker turned politician who took office in 2021. He could face a final vote on removal from office in as little as two weeks, but he has promised that if that happens, he will dissolve the government.
If he does that, CONAIE, the largest indigenous federation in the country, which exercises considerable power in the streets, has said they will stage massive protests that include blockading ports and roads.
And what comes next is anyone’s guess.
Lasso faces impeachment over a scandal broken by journalists in January that claimed Lasso turned a blind eye to corruption schemes that involved his inner political circle to embezzle money via public companies and further accused them of ties to the Albanian mafia.
Wait, did you just say the Albanian Mob? This is crazy
Yes, the Albanian mob. And it is crazy! Ecuador has seen a serious deterioration of its security situation in recent years, fueled in part by criminal gangs from the Western Balkans that use Ecuadorian ports to smuggle cocaine to Europe.
Cocaine trafficking from Colombia and Peru is rising sharply, and that has led to a massive spike in violence, especially in and around the port city of Guayaquil. Albanian gangs, employing local criminals as liaisons, have come to dominate the narco-trade in Guayaquil, which boasts 5 of the nation's 8 major shipping points and has become the epicenter of growing ‘narco violence’.
Guayaquil in 2022 was among the 25 cities with the highest homicide rates in the world. The city recorded 47 murders per 100,000 citizens, a 7-fold increase since 2017. It has also suffered an ever-increasing wave of murders, kidnappings, extortion, and even bombings.
Criminal gangs from the Balkans are one of many foreign groups fighting to consolidate control in the increasingly chaotic city. They often hire Ecuadorian criminal groups to handle cocaine transportation to Guayaquil, for security, as well as to bribe corrupt officials and politicians to facilitate smuggling.
Enter politicians with close ties to Lasso. Journalists broke the scandal that they may have benefitted from a relationship with the Albanian mob after the journalists received leaked information supposedly from Ecuadorian law-enforcement officials.
Further leaked audio after the story was published confirmed details of the journalists’ investigation. After one of the named officials, Hernan Luque, fled, becoming an outlaw on the run, and a second, Rubén Cherres, was found murdered, ex-president Rafael Correa’s leftist Union for Hope coalition (UNES) initiated impeachment hearings. A majority of the National Assembly agreed to an investigation, and proceedings culminated at the May 8 vote, which brings us to the present.
Lasso threatens “Crossed Death”
Lasso is deeply unpopular, with an approval rating of just 17 percent. He won office on a razor-thin margin, and his coalition has never held a majority in Congress. He has been largely blamed for worsening crime as well as inflation, and failure to recover from an economic slump caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
He narrowly survived an impeachment process in 2021 related to his name appearing in the Panama Papers. In 2022, he faced mass protests organized by CONAIE in relation to the country’s economic dependence on extraction industries.
When the National Assembly initiated preliminary impeachment processes against him this March, he publicly threatened to use a never before utilized Constitution tool (ironically created by his political arch-nemesis Correa) called “Muerte Cruzada”, or “Crossed Death”.
The mechanism allows the Ecuadorian president to dissolve the National Assembly under some circumstances, and conversely, for the National Assembly to remove the president.
Picture two old-timey gunfighters, with pistols drawn on each other, staring each other down in the town square— a ‘deadman’s standoff’ if you will, only with votes.
So What Happens Next?
So far, it isn’t clear if Lasso will follow through on his threat to dissolve the government, but most analysts say he is unlikely to achieve the votes necessary to survive this second impeachment attempt.
If he does dissolve the government, he would rule by decree until new elections could be organized, elections in which he has promised to run.
But, as we mentioned above, there is just one problem with that. CONAIE has said that if Lasso dissolves the government, they will spearhead massive national protests, and they would likely be joined by Correa supporters.
Forgive our French here, but we at PWS have covered CONAIE-organized protests on the ground before, and we would like to colorfully state that those guys and gals do not fuck around. The Indigenous federation would likely be able to block most of the major roads in the country as well as ports, while still having enough turnout to march directly on the capital, Quito.
But, whatever happens, some analysts say that these problems for Lasso could well result in the return of ex-president Correa, who fled the country over corruption accusations in 2017 and has since been sentenced in absentia to 8 years in prison.
It is important to state that Lasso himself faces no direct charges of corruption. That may be beside the point however as the impeachment process seems to have become a referendum on his presidency, which, to employ a bit of understatement, has not gone well.
But if we have learned anything covering politics here, it’s that they are anything but predictable. A flight to Quito may well be in our near future.
Spanish Word of the Week
Peculado- the crime of squandering or stealing public funds, or allowing a third party to do the same
We learned this word this week by reading about Lasso and his impeachment trial. Amy however, suggested an alternative meaning: “especulando about l (considering) committing pecado (a sin). Like when you take condoms on a night out.”
That isn’t what it means, but it is funny. Even funnier, the word stems from the Latin term peculio, which in Colombia sounds like a combination between pecado and “culiar” (to have sex). We like to imagine this is extra, extra sinful sex.
But nope. It does however likely mean Lasso is on his way out
Till next week pirates!