August 2023 | Ecuadorians vote to end oil drilling in Amazon national park
In a referendum held on 20 August, over 58 per cent of voters chose to stop oil extraction in the Yasuni National Park, a UN protected biosphere located in the Amazon. In a second referendum, Ecuadorians also voted to ban all extraction activities in the Choco Andino tropical rainforest, near Quito, with around 68 per cent of support.
Efforts to contain oil production in the Amazon had been spearheaded by Indigenous Peoples and environmental activists, many of them young people, for years. Officials across several administrations and the state’s oil company, Petroecuador, had argued that an end to oil development in Yasuni, would lead to austerity measures with a negative impact on the economy. Petroecuador will have to dismantle its oil processing facilities and provide for reparations.
According to Human Rights Watch, the vote on the Yasuni is the first time a referendum had resulted in a ban on new and pre-existing fossil fuel exploration. Turnout for this referendum neared 83 per cent. Notably, the decision will benefit the Taromenane, Tagaeri and Dugakaeri peoples, who choose to live in isolation in the region, as the drilling activities impacted the quality of their water and resources. Environmental activists have organized to demand the government’s compliance with the referendum as, following the results, officials, including incumbent president Lasso, as well as the candidate currently leading in polls to succeed him, have expressed reservations about the government’s ability to implement the results in the given timeline.
July 2023 | State of emergency imposed on country’s prisons
On 25 July a state of emergency was imposed for 60 days in Ecuador’s prisons after 31 persons deprived of their liberty were killed and more were injured during riots in the Guayas 1 prison in the city of Guayaquil. Violence reportedly broke out between rival gangs, who had also taken officers hostage, leading the government to order the military’s intervention. After the state of emergency decree was issued, violence was also reported in the province of Esmeralda, were a local prison and police unit were attacked, and prison staff taken hostage. The decree establishing the state of emergency covers the entire Social Rehabilitation System and will enable the armed forces to, in collaboration with National Police, take measures to reestablish control of all detention centres.
May 2023 | President Lasso dissolves Congress
In a move to prevent his separation from office in impeachment proceedings that were scheduled for 16 May, President Guillermo Lasso dissolved Congress by invoking a constitutional provision known as “cross-death”. It means that the electoral authority will have to call for both congressional and presidential elections, which effectively suspends the impeachment proceedings against Lasso with regard to corruption allegations. Weeks later, on 2 June, Lasso stated that he will not run for reelection in the special presidential elections that will be held in August.
April 2023 | Civilians authorized to carry guns for personal protection
President Guillermo Lasso’s government has announced that, given the increased violence from gangs and organized crime, adults over 25 years of age can carry guns, subject to several requirements, including obtaining a permit after psychological and toxicological evaluation. Previously, the use of guns was mostly restricted to police and military personnel. Members of academia, civil society and Indigenous leaders have criticized this policy, arguing that it transfers the responsibility of personal safety to civilians, fails to address the underlying causes of violence, and undermines Ecuador’s commitment to the elimination of domestic and gender-based violence. Critics have also expressed worry that civilian use of guns could exacerbate harassment of social activists. A group of human rights lawyers has challenged the executive policy before Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, arguing that due to the implications on the right to life and personal integrity, civilian gun ownership is a matter that should be formally and substantially regulated in legislation