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“People Are Dying in the Streets”: Ecuador Struggles to Cope with COVID-19 as Cases Skyrocket

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The coronavirus pandemic is exhausting Ecuador’s medical resources, with at least 220 dead and more than 4,000 cases. Ecuador is among the top three countries with the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the entire Latin American region. In recent days, images of dead bodies wrapped in plastic tarp left on the streets of the city of Guayaquil as families desperately try to bury loved ones have shocked the entire country and the world. Guayaquil is Ecuador’s most populous city and the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. We speak with Denisse Herrera, the Ecuador correspondent for teleSUR.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Juan González is in New Jersey, number two in the United States for coronavirus.

We are going to turn now, though, to Ecuador, where the coronavirus pandemic is exhausting Ecuador’s medical resources with nearly 4,000 cases, death toll of 220 people. Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno has admitted the numbers are likely higher. Ecuador is among the top three countries hardest hit by COVID-19 in Latin America. The city of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s most populous region, is the epicenter of the pandemic in Ecuador. In recent days, images of dead bodies wrapped in plastic tarp, left on the street for days as families desperately try to bury loved ones lost to COVID-19, have shocked Ecuador and the world. Residents have blamed strict quarantine and government neglect for the disaster. Local hospitals and mortuaries are overwhelmed. Temporary morgues have been installed throughout Guayaquil and the surrounding provinces. Government officials distribute cardboard coffins to local residents. This is Caesar Figueroa, a nurse working in Guayaquil.

CAESAR FIGUEROA: [translated] I’m a nurse. I had my dad at home, because no hospital is able to treat him or anyone, just here in El Ceibo. But, believe me, people are dying. There’s no medical personnel, no nurses. There’s no one working. There’s like three people. Trust me, I’ve been inside. The situation is precarious. There is no gloves, no masks. There’s nothing. All of Ecuador is a country of nothing. There’s no government. There’s no president.

AMY GOODMAN: Ecuador’s minister of health resigned last month, denouncing the Ecuadorian government’s mismanagement of the pandemic.

For more, we’re going to Quito, Ecuador, where we’re joined by Denisse Herrera, the Ecuador correspondent for teleSUR.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Denisse, can you just start off by talking about the situation in Ecuador, one of the hardest-hit countries in Latin America?

DENISSE HERRERA: OK. Hello. Thank you for this interview. As was said before, we saw on social media the epicenter of this pandemic in Ecuador is the province of Guayas, is the coast of Ecuador, and mainly the city of Guayaquil is the most city where people are really facing difficult moments. As we saw before, people are denouncing that they didn’t receive any help from the authorities.

But I think that it’s important to say here what happened with the health system in Ecuador. If we hear before also that the ex-minister of health, Catalina Andramuño, said that she didn’t receive any economic help from the authorities to face this sanitary crisis, we hear before that also the government are saying that they are taking all the measures to prevent this coronavirus situation. But Guayaquil is facing a really difficult moment. Is it true the government is saying that there is a communication, a strategic community, against the government, leading by former President Rafael Correa? So they are trying to say that most of this history, that we hear, that we saw, that we know that it is true, is a lie. People are dying in the streets, people are dying in their home, because they didn’t receive any health assistance, but they didn’t receive any help from the authorities. So, it’s a real history. But now we don’t know if the government will do something to stop the situation. The government are saying that they are taking all the measures.

Also, the mayor of Guayaquil, Cynthia Viteri, said that they — she announced that she will begin with the construction of two cemeteries in Guayaquil. But we don’t know when this starts or where or how this can help the people. I mean, people are dying. They want to give their families, their relatives a dignified burial. But the government is not accepting what is really happening. At the beginning of this crisis —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Denisse —

DENISSE HERRERA: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Denisse Herrera, I wanted to ask you about the impact of the austerity measures imposed by the IMF last year after a big $4.2 billion IMF loan under President Moreno. How has that had an impact on the basic government services, especially healthcare?

DENISSE HERRERA: Yeah, that was one of the main points here, because when Moreno decided to close, to sign this agreement with the IMF, one of the requirements made by the IMF was to make cuts in the public sectors. So, the main areas affected by this agreement was the education and the healthcare. And now the lawmakers from Ecuador, mainly from Ecuador, from Quito, are saying that this was the main problem here, because the government dismissed several medical doctors and nurses the past year, so now they have to hire again doctors and nurses to face this crisis. But most of them don’t have the experience to face this crisis.

So, as we saw the last year, in October, people were really — they were rejecting all these economic measures. They were rejected, the austerity program that came from the IMF. And Moreno said that this is a new opportunity to bring more money to the country, but until now we don’t know if the government will have this money. Recently, the economic minister said — and it was one of the decisions, really difficult to say for the government, but the economic minister announced the payment of part of one bond — we call it the bond 2020. And Richard Martínez, the minister of economy, paid around $325 million. He said that this decision will bring much money to the country, but we don’t have money until now, so we don’t know if this decision really will help Ecuador.

AMY GOODMAN: Can I quickly ask you, before we go, about the conviction of former President Rafael Correa Tuesday on corruption charges? He is in Belgium. He says this is ridiculous, that the current government is manipulating justice to get what they couldn’t get in the ballot box. But the significance of this?

DENISSE HERRERA: Yeah. As I said before, the government is trying to say that they are facing a communication campaign against their actions. So, yesterday, a tribunal from April —

AMY GOODMAN: And we’ve got five seconds. Sorry.

DENISSE HERRERA: Yeah, OK. So, the court of Ecuador resolved to say that former President Rafael Correa and former Vice President Jorge Glas were sent — were guilty of the crime of bribery. So they are using this news to take away the tension of what is really happening in Quito, in Guayaquil and —

AMY GOODMAN: Denisse Herrera, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Ecuador correspondent for teleSUR, speaking to us from Quito.

Democracy Now! working with as few people on site as possible. Thanks to our entire crew, especially Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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