Ecuador’s political landscape has been rocked by a series of corruption allegations in recent months, with the country’s president, Guillermo Lasso, at the center of many of them. The latest crime to hit the headlines is the murder of Rubén Cherres, a former collaborator of Lasso’s brother-in-law and lifelong business associate, Danilo Carrera. Cherres had been sought by authorities since January 21, when a warrant was issued for his arrest. His murder, along with three others, has raised questions about Lasso’s inner circle and his alleged ties to criminal enterprises.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center of Economic and Policy Research, has spoken out about the mounting evidence of corruption surrounding Lasso’s presidency. He has called on the Biden administration to investigate allegations that Lasso has used the United States financial system to hide assets and evade taxes. Weisbrot has also urged the US to avoid interfering in Ecuador’s sovereign judicial process and to support investigations into the possible crimes committed by Lasso.
Cherres was reportedly tasked with running a cash-for-executive-appointments scheme, including appointments in ministerial positions. These schemes are now being investigated by the prosecutor general. Carrera has been accused of being at the center of a complex web of corruption and has been implicated in false contracts in the energy sector. Notably, Carrera accompanied Lasso on his December 2022 trip to Washington, DC.
The prosecutor general has also opened a new investigation into Lasso’s alleged involvement in shutting down a police probe into Cherres’s links with what Ecuadorian authorities have referred to as the “Albanian mafia,” a drug-trafficking ring. The allegations are that Lasso exerted pressure on the commander of the National Police and the head of the anti-narcotics police to cover up the investigation’s report.
Lasso has done everything in his power to block investigations into his alleged involvement in corruption. He withdrew specialized police personnel from the prosecutor’s office and has repeatedly threatened journalists who have made these corruption allegations public. The latter have complained that they have been the target of frequent death threats, most recently denouncing renewed threats to their lives and safety last Friday.
The death of Cherres has eliminated a key witness in the potential links between the Lasso administration and organized crime. Lasso currently faces impeachment proceedings, which have been approved by the country’s Constitutional Court. The National Assembly will vote in the coming weeks on whether to remove Lasso from office.
The Biden administration has been urged to investigate Lasso and Carrera’s offshore holdings in the US and to show that it takes corruption allegations seriously. The Department of Justice must avoid expressing positions that could be seen as attempts to shore up Lasso’s presidency. Failure to make clear that the US supports the rule of law in Ecuador risks alienating the US government from the population and from other governments in the region.
In conclusion, the corruption allegations surrounding Lasso’s presidency have raised serious concerns about his leadership and his ties to organized crime. The murder of Rubén Cherres has further deepened the controversy surrounding Lasso’s administration. The Biden administration must take these allegations seriously and support investigations into Lasso and Carrera’s offshore holdings. It is crucial that the US upholds the rule of law in Ecuador and avoids interfering in the country’s sovereign judicial process. The future of Ecuador’s political landscape and its relationship with the US may well depend on the outcome of the upcoming impeachment proceedings.