Quito – The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, proclaimed yesterday before Congress his “total, evident and unquestionable” innocence in the alleged crime of embezzlement under which the leftist opposition seeks to remove him from office through a political trial.
In a context of increasing violence linked to drug trafficking and popular discontent over the cost of living, what could be the end of the right-wing government is an opportunity for the main left-wing bloc to regain strength at the hands of its leader , former president Rafael Correa, a fugitive in Europe and sentenced to eight years in prison.
“There is no evidence or relevant testimonies. Rather, the only thing there is is information that proves my total, evident and unquestionable innocence”, the president defended himself during almost an hour of speech in the Quito chamber.
With the attendance of 109 of its 137 members, the unicameral National Assembly yesterday began the political trial against Lasso, in which the congressmen presented the arguments against him followed by the president’s defense.
In power since May 2021, the president is accused of alleged embezzlement in the management of the state shipping company Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana (Flopec).
According to the complaints, Lasso decided to continue with a contract that was signed before he took office, despite reports that it was harmful to the State.
The contract for the transportation of crude oil with the international group Amazonas Tanker left losses of more than US$6 million. The president has not been prosecuted for any crime in ordinary Justice and assured that he filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office in 2022 to investigate the case.
“I am very sorry that from the fragile house of cards that they built for five months, they had no choice but to settle for the weakest card,” said the 67-year-old president, before leaving the Assembly supported by his supporters.
Several hundred people gathered peacefully around Parliament, which was cordoned off by police. Through giant screens, some follow the impeachment trial, which has gone into recess.
The ruler’s supporters waved Ecuadorian flags, shouted against the assembly members and carried signs with slogans such as “Long live democracy!” and “We defend democracy and peace.”
The process awakens the ghosts of the political instability that Ecuador experienced between 1997 and 2005, when three rulers who emerged from the polls were overthrown.
Congress requires 92 of the 137 votes to remove Lasso, in a deliberation that could take several days.
This is the second time that the ex-banker has been between a rock and a hard place. Last June Parliament tried by direct vote to remove him amid violent indigenous protests against the high cost of living.
Congress, on that occasion, lacked 12 votes to finalize the removal due to a serious political crisis and internal commotion.
If he is saved again, Lasso will only have to “see how the country continues down the cliff” by having to govern with an opposition Congress and without communication bridges, said constitutionalist Rafael Oyarte.
Bloody demonstrations against the government and failures at the polls have weakened the president’s image.
Lasso used one of the three hours he had set aside for his defense and launched a range of claims to the opposition headed by a repeated “I accuse them.”
“I accuse you of having abandoned your role as legislators, you do not create laws but destroy them,” he said.