The harshest first images of the coronavirus pandemic in South America came from the coastal city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. There were bodies abandoned in the streets, collapsed hospitals, people buried in mass graves. A year later, during a visit to the site, I heard terrible stories from its inhabitants, including those of people who did not know where a relative’s body had been taken.
In 100 days of government, Ecuador’s new president, Guillermo Lasso, has turned the tide. Until his inauguration, the country was slowly vaccinating and seeing politicians jumping the queue with a grunt. The center-right leader has taken control of a country in great economic difficulty and politically divided – his own participation in the second round was decided by a few votes.
But Lasso understood the priorities and his international contacts accumulated during his long career as a businessman and banker have served the task. In a short time, the country has gone from a bad position in the fight against the pandemic to one of the first places. For example, it is ahead of Brazil and Argentina in terms of a full two-dose schedule, having vaccinated 42.1% of the population. With a single dose, it has 57.4%. The mortality curve has also fallen sharply, although the delta variant threatens this good performance.
The vaccination campaign has thrilled the country. In April, only 5% of Ecuadorians thought the country was on the right track, in August, that figure rose to 57%, according to a survey by Cedatos. Among those questioned, the areas in which its management is the most popular are health, job creation and safety.
Lasso’s popularity also increased, from 71.4% in June to 73.5% in August.
Thus, Lasso, who came out of third place in the polls during the election campaign, is positioned as one of the most popular presidents in the region.
Its challenges, however, are not uncommon. In addition to continuing this effort in the face of the arrival of new variants, the president has on his agenda the restructuring of the external debt, the rise in unemployment in the pandemic and the contraction of the economy by 7.8% in 2020.
Politically, he suffers from not having a majority in parliament. Currently, the governing coalition only holds 8.7% of the country’s unicameral Congress. The others are divided, for the most part, between the left and the center-left, which resist an agenda of reforms that Lasso wants to set in motion.
On the social level, the indigenous confederation (Conaie) continues to exert pressure for the same reason it took to the streets in 2019. Indigenous groups do not accept the policy of price adjustment that the government considers necessary to comply with the agreement with the IMF (International Monetary Fund).
At that time, a precarious understanding calmed the protests, but they did not recur due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Among the groups, there is talk of returning to the streets if the government does not increase social and economic benefits for rural and vulnerable sectors.
The one who assumed the leadership of the indigenous people is Yaku Pérez, who was defeated by Lasso in the second round of the elections.
One side which has also opened up and which comes from previous administrations is the crisis of prison overcrowding. Riots have been frequent in recent months, and this year alone the death toll in these clashes has already doubled compared to last year. Lasso has in his hands a proposal to change the way in which prisons are organized. But the problem is beyond its doors, as the country has seen more and more local and foreign drug cartels operating in its territory.
It will be important for Lasso to take advantage of this good wave of popularity to move forward with projects that improve the lives of Ecuadorians, at the risk of seeing the tide quickly turn against him.