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“A Cowardly Measure”: Ecuador’s Guillermo Lasso Dissolves Parliament to Avoid Impeachment

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Ecuador’s conservative President Guillermo Lasso has dissolved the opposition-led National Assembly in a move widely seen as an effort to block efforts to impeach him, and came as the body held its first hearing into corruption and embezzlement allegations against Lasso. Lasso used a constitutional power that has never been used in Ecuador before, allowing him to rule by decree until new elections are held. That vote is likely to come in August, and Lasso told The Washington Post he does not plan to run again. For more on the political crisis in Ecuador, we speak with Andrés Arauz, the Ecuadorian politician and economist who ran against Lasso for president in 2021. He previously served as director of Ecuador’s Central Bank and then minister of knowledge and human talent under the administration of former leftist President Rafael Correa. He’s also a senior research fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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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.

We end today’s show in Ecuador, where the conservative President Guillermo Lasso has dissolved the opposition-led National Assembly. The move was seen as an effort to block efforts to impeach him, and came as the body held its first hearing into corruption and embezzlement allegations against Lasso.

He used a constitutional power that’s never been used in Ecuador before. It allows him to rule by decree until new elections are held, likely in August. He told The Washington Post he doesn’t plan to run for president again.

Lasso is a millionaire conservative banker elected in 2021. He was set to serve his term until 2025 and visited the White House in December. Even after the corruption allegations surfaced, Republican Senator Marco Rubio flew to Ecuador in late February to show his support for Lasso.

This comes as Ecuador has faced increasing poverty, and violence has soared, promoting more Ecuadorians to seek a better life in the United States.

For more, we’re joined in Guayaquil, Ecuador, by Andrés Arauz, the Ecuadoran politician and economist. He ran for president in 2021 in a contested election against Lasso. Arauz served as director of Ecuador’s Central Bank and then minister of knowledge and human talent under the administration of the former President Rafael Correa. He’s also a senior research fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Andrés Arauz. Can you talk about what has happened, the significance of Lasso dissolving the parliament?

ANDRÉS ARAUZ: Thank you, Amy, for the invitation.

Yes, Lasso’s dissolution of parliament is a first in our history. And unfortunately, it was a cowardly measure, taken days before the impeachment process ended and which would have resulted in his destitution, so him sacking of power. So, it was a cowardly measure that, despite being that, now opens the opportunity for Ecuadorian citizens to go to the booths and to decide on the future democratically. So, we see that part of the decision as a hopeful part that, you know, of course, is going to give us a chance to participate in the elections and hopefully allow progressive forces to regroup and, you know, in a pretty quick turnaround of time, have the opportunity to enlightened — have an enlightened position and get together a broad coalition, just enough to win.

However, this dissolution of parliament also brings about risks, because Lasso’s measure allows him to rule by decree, to issue laws by decree, with a filter from the Constitutional Court. Lasso has already mentioned that he plans to use this power to roll back labor laws, to privatize key state-owned assets like oil industry, electricity, utility systems, telecommunications, strategic sectors such as those, and also has promised to issue a decree which creates or converts Ecuador into what’s called a tax haven — right? — a financial sector-free zone, is what he has called it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Lasso immediately deploying police forces to the streets, while Ecuador’s chief of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces told Ecuadorian citizens Lasso’s decision was constitutional, should be respected? He threatened those planning protests, saying, “This country will not accept any attempt to disrupt the constitutional order and democracy through violence.”

ANDRÉS ARAUZ: Yeah. Well, Lasso, even before the decree was issued and published in the Official Gazette, Lasso sent the military to parliament and prevented anybody from getting into parliament, literally cut all cables that joined parliament with the rest of society. There is no electricity in parliament, no phone connections, no internet connections, no fiberoptic whatsoever. And Lasso fired everybody within the parliament, even, you know, janitors and employees that would have to keep and give maintenance to the institution.

And, of course, he did that with the support and full support of the military. He ordered the military — I’m not talking about the minister of defense; I’m talking about the actual military commanders — to issue a statement together saying that the decree was constitutional, even before the Constitutional Court had had the chance to say that that was so. So, of course, it’s called a fait accompli, right? Once he uses the military, you could expect very little difference from the actual courts. So, unfortunately, that was an authoritarian measure taken by Lasso.

And now the democracy is also at risk, because together with the military, on the same day of the dissolution of parliament, he used the prosecutor general to sack three out of the five members of the Judicial Administrative Council and started actions to also remove from their positions the Citizens’ Participation Council, which in Ecuador has a very important role, which is designate the authorities for the electoral commission. So, we are a bit scared in Ecuador that Lasso might use the force and the prosecutor general to remove position politicians from power and from key posts.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you address two things? Many human rights activists are deeply concerned that this power to govern by decree could open the door for even more human rights violations — for example, using terrorism laws to target Indigenous groups that might oppose him. And what do you anticipate will happen in the next 90 days, before the snap elections, that now, apparently, Lasso says he will not run for president in? Are you planning to run for president in these August elections? And how are people preparing for this?

ANDRÉS ARAUZ: Well, these snap elections definitely take everyone by surprise. Political parties are trying to quickly organize themselves into coalitions. What I have said is that more important than my name or than anybody’s name, we need to make sure we have a broad coalition. In 2021, we lost because we weren’t able to attract, you know, around 20, 30% of the populations in the Ecuadorian highlands, that voted a no vote, so they spoiled their vote. We need that to actually become a proactive vote in favor of democracy, in favor of opportunities, in favor of progressive agenda. And that’s what I’m focusing my energies on. Now, obviously, derived from that process, there’s political leadership that’s being built, and we’ll see whether that coalition decides on my name as a possibility. However, I’m willing to support anyone that comes out of that historic process.

There are threats. We’re not so sure that this will be a swift electoral process. We see that Lasso has leaned on the military, on the judicial to try to pressure the different authorities. And we see a lot of negative signs with respect to the possibility of perhaps putting a lot of — you know, Lasso dragging his feet with regards to the budget for the electoral process, for example, and stuff like that, that may complicate the electoral process.

AMY GOODMAN: I mentioned that Senator Rubio was supporting Lasso. Also the Biden administration has supported him, despite the accusations of corruption. Lasso is very wealthy, much of that wealth stored in U.S. trusts, LLCs. Is that correct? How does this work? And what are you calling on the Biden administration, how to recognize this president who has dissolved the National Assembly?

ANDRÉS ARAUZ: Well, we see that the U.S. has given a lot of support to Lasso, the person, not Ecuador, the country, not the Ecuadorian people. During Lasso’s government, for example, most of the vaccines that were provided to Ecuadorians’ population actually came from China. Lasso asked the U.S. to sign a free trade agreement, and that didn’t happen. He actually signed a free trade agreement with China. So, what we see is a U.S. policy directed only, basically, on the security sphere, by sending plenty of intelligence officials and equipment, now operating even from the Galápagos Islands, while the Ecuadorian people have not received any benefits in terms of the treatment of Ecuadorian migrants in the U.S. or Fulbright scholarships or better trade opportunities and so on.

And unfortunately, what we see is part of the Biden administration and especially certain high-ranking senators in the U.S. supporting Lasso personally. Lasso has immense wealth, probably half a billion dollars now in the U.S., stashed in trusts in South Dakota, also in real estate, in shady properties in South Florida, a certain LLC structure that, you know, doesn’t — is not very transparent, but which is, you know, hundreds of millions dollars’ worth. And we now see that these properties that he owns — even he owns an offshore bank in Panama, as well — are in violation of Ecuadorians’ law that prohibits government officials from having property in tax havens.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, Andrés Arauz, Ecuadorian politician and economist. And we’ll post a Spanish interview at democracynow.org, as well. I’m Amy Goodman. Thank you so much for joining us.

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