Ecuadorian president restructures cabinet amid growing political crisis

In recent weeks, the tensions have escalated between the right-wing national government and the progressive opposition parties that dominate the Parliament

April 03, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso with the recently sworn in cabinet members. Photo: Guillermo Lasso

On March 30, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso signed two Executive Decrees to separate the political and internal security functions of the Ministry of Government. He split up the entity to create a new Ministry of Interior and appointed two new ministers. Lasso swore in former assemblyman Francisco Jiménez as his new Minister of Government, and former police commander Patricio Carrillo as his new Minister of Interior.

“I want to emphasize that the decisions that have been made are aimed at solving the problems that citizens experience on a daily basis,” said Lasso. He explained that the Ministry of Government shall be responsible exclusively for political relations, negotiations of the Executive with the National Assembly, local governments, and social sectors. He added that the new Ministry of Interior, for its part, will be solely responsible for ensuring public safety.

Cabinet crisis

The cabinet reorganization was triggered by the resignation of former government minister Alexandra Vela. Vela left her position on March 29, after holding it for almost nine months, due to political differences with the president. In her resignation letter, Vela confirmed that she decided to quit after President Lasso refused to apply a constitutional prerogative called “cross death”, which allows the president to dissolve the legislative assembly and call for early general elections. Vela had proposed the measure in the face of the increasing conflict and disagreements between the right-wing national government and the opposition-controlled unicameral Congress.

During the swearing-in of the new ministers, Lasso thanked Vela for her work, and, without referring to the discrepancies with Vela, added that dialogue will prevail in his administration as a form of management.

Vela’s departure coincided with the resignation of Lasso’s advisor and spokesman for the Presidency, Carlos Jijón. The spokesman, who had been in the office since October 2021, announced his resignation on Twitter and did not elaborate on the reasons for his decision.

Disagreements with the National Assembly

In recent weeks, the tensions have escalated between the Lasso administration and the progressive forces such as the Union for Hope Coalition, which dominate the Parliament. Last week, on March 24, Ecuadorian legislators rejected and shelved the Investment bill, presented by the national government.

According to the government, the proposal was a tool to revitalize the country’s economy and development, and sought to generate 30 billion dollars in investments in addition to two million jobs. However, the left leaning parties condemned it as a mechanism to legalize benefits for large companies and privatization of public companies. It was also rejected by numerous trade unions and social organizations, which considered it regressive and anti-workers.

On March 29, during the weekly program “Let’s meet for citizenry,” Lasso criticized the position of the National Assembly and warned that he could resort to Executive Decrees to govern and implement the bill to attack private investors. He stated that he would do everything, permitted by the Constitution and the Law, to achieve his objectives. He first mentioned rule by decrees, followed by the possibility of submitting the bill to a referendum.

Lasso, who has been in office for 10 months, told journalists that out of the five bills he had sent to the National Assembly, one was rejected and the four others were not taken up for debate. These bills pertained to investments, communication, higher education, security, and taxes.

Given the refusal of the legislature to ratify and/or approve the president’s initiatives, Vela suggested applying the constitutional clause that empowers the president to dissolve the National Assembly within the first three years of administration for reasons such as obstruction of the execution of the National Development Plan. The provision also allows the Executive to govern by issuing decree-laws, under the control of the Constitutional Court.

Nevertheless, Lasso, being aware of the other constitutional articles that also authorizes the Congress, where Lasso’s Creating Opportunities Party (CREO) is in a minority, to remove the president for assuming its functions or for a serious political crisis and internal commotion, avoided this scenario and tried to avert the crisis by restructuring his cabinet.

Challenges facing the Lasso administration

In addition to resolving the disagreements with the National Assembly, the government faces the challenge of dealing with the increase in drug trafficking, insecurity, and violence at the national level.

During 2021, Ecuador witnessed a series of prison riots due to clashes between inmates from rival drug trafficking gangs. According to official data, in 2021, Ecuador registered a rate of 14 murders per 100,000 people, almost the double of what was recorded in 2020. Additionally, according to reports, in the last three months, nearly 47 tons of drugs have been seized, after a record 210 tons were seized last year. Vela had received strong criticism for her management of the office, and for the failure to settle the political crisis and control the situation of violence.