Death toll in Ecuador prison riot rises to 116, six decapitated

QUITO (Reuters) -The death toll from a riot at one of Ecuador’s largest prisons rose to 116, President Guillermo Lasso said on Wednesday, adding that he would send additional security forces and free up funds to avoid a repeat.

Another 80 inmates were injured during the Tuesday night clashes at the Penitenciaria del Litoral in Guayas province, which has been the scene of bloody fights between gangs for control of the prison in recent months.

“It is unfortunate that criminal groups are attempting to convert prisons into a battleground for power disputes,” Lasso told reporters in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. “I ask God to bless Ecuador and that we can avoid more loss of human life.”

Tuesday’s clash was the most deadly act of violence ever reported in Ecuador’s penitentiary system. Similar clashes took place in February and July 2021 in various prisons throughout the country. At least 79 people died in the February violence, and in July at least 22 lives were lost.

Dozens of people arrived at the jail to seek information about relatives and demand accountability from officials responsible for the inmates’ safety. The government bolstered military presence outside the facility. Lasso said the state would assist the families of dead and injured inmates.

The South American country’s prosecutor’s office said earlier on Wednesday that six of the slain prisoners at Penitenciaria del Litoral had been decapitated.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has previously condemned the violence, and Human Rights Watch urged Ecuador’s government to fully investigate the prison violence and bring those responsible to justice.

Lasso in August said the government would provide more funding for the overcrowded prison system to build new wards and install new equipment to improve security.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Sam Holmes and Lincoln Feawst)

COVID still devastating in the Americas, health agency says

BRASILIA (Reuters) -COVID-19 continues to inflict a devastating toll on the Americas, with Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador and Paraguay among the countries with the world’s highest weekly death rates, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

Cases have more than doubled in the United States over the past week, mainly among unvaccinated people, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said in a briefing.

The more transmissible Delta variant of coronavirus has been detected in 20 of the 35 countries in the Americas already, she said.

Cuba is seeing higher COVID infection and death rates than at any other point in the pandemic there, she said, adding that more than 7,000 minors and nearly 400 pregnant women have tested positive there in the last week.

Over the last week there were over 1.26 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 29,000 deaths reported in the Americas.

Infection hotspots have been reported in Argentine provinces bordering Bolivia and Chile, and in Colombia’s Amazon region.

“As COVID continues to circulate, too many places have relaxed the public health and social measures that have proven effective against this virus,” Etienne said.

So far, only 16.6% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as countries in the regions have yet to access the vaccines needed to keep their people safe, she said.

“The good news is that vaccines work against the variants, including Delta, in terms of preventing severe disease and death. The bad news is that we do not have yet enough vaccines to stop community transmission,” Etienne said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world

Season of discontent: protests flare around the world
(Reuters) – Another day, another protest.

On Monday it was Bolivia – angry people clashed with police after the political opposition said it had been cheated in an election won by incumbent President Evo Morales.

Last week, the streets of the Chilean capital Santiago descended into chaos, as demonstrators enraged by a hike in public transport fares looted stores, set a bus alight and prompted the president to declare a state of emergency.

Earlier this month, Ecuador’s leader did the same after violent unrest triggered by the decision to end fuel subsidies that had been in place for decades.

And that was just South America.

Hong Kong has been in turmoil for months, Lebanon’s capital Beirut was at a standstill, parts of Barcelona resembled a battlefield last week and tens of thousands of Britons marched through London at the weekend over Brexit.

Protests have flared around the world in the last few months. Each has had its own trigger, but many of the underlying frustrations are similar.

Globalization and technological progress have, in general, exacerbated disparities within countries, said Sergei Guriev, former chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, while noting that not all of the current protests were driven by economic concerns.

Digital media has also made people more acutely aware of global inequalities, said Simon French, chief economist at UK bank Panmure Gordon.

“We know that the economics of happiness is largely driven by a relative assessment of your position versus your benchmark,” he said, a benchmark that now stretched way beyond the local community.

ECONOMICS

In at least four countries hit by recent violent protests, the main reason for the uprising is economic.

Governments in Chile and Ecuador have incurred their people’s wrath after trying to raise fares and end fuel subsidies.

As clashes engulfed Quito, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno reached out to indigenous leaders who had mobilized people to take to the streets.

Within minutes, chief protest organizer Jaime Vargas had rejected that outreach.

“We’re defending the people,” Vargas said in a live Facebook video from the march in Quito.

His response, visible to millions of people, underlines an added challenge authorities have when trying to quell dissent: social media has made communication between protesters easier than ever.

Tens of thousands of people have flooded Beirut in the biggest show of dissent against the establishment there in decades. People of all ages and religions joined to protest about worsening economic conditions and the perception that those in power were corrupt.

Similar factors were behind deadly civil unrest in Iraq in early October.

More than 100 people died in violent protests across a country where many Iraqis, especially young people, felt they had seen few economic benefits since Islamic State militants were defeated in 2017.

Security forces cracked down, with snipers opening fire from rooftops and the internet being shut to stem the flow of information among protesters.

GIVE US OUR AUTONOMY

Hong Kong has been battered by five months of often violent protests over fears Beijing is tightening its grip on the territory, the worst political crisis since colonial ruler Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

There have been few major rallies in recent weeks, but violence has escalated at those held, with militant activists setting metro stations ablaze and smashing up shops, often targeting Chinese banks and stores with mainland links.

Police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas, hundreds of rubber bullets and three live rounds at brick- and petrol bomb-throwing activists.

The events in Hong Kong have drawn comparisons to Catalonia in recent days. There, too, people are angry at what they see as attempts to thwart their desire for greater autonomy from the rest of Spain, if not outright independence.

Protesters set cars on fire and threw petrol bombs at police in Barcelona, unrest sparked by the sentencing of Catalan separatist leaders who sought to declare an independent state.

Demonstrators also focused on strategic targets to cause maximum disruption, including the international airport, grounding more than 100 flights.

That came several days after similar action in Hong Kong, suggesting that protest movements are following and even copying each other on social media and the news.

“In Hong Kong they have done it well, but they are crazier,” said Giuseppe Vayreda, a 22-year-old art student at a recent Catalan separatist protest.

On Thursday, Hong Kong protesters plan a rally to show solidarity with those demonstrating in Spain.

LEADER OR NO LEADER

In some cases, individuals rise to the forefront of protest movements, using social media to get their message across.

In Egypt, where demonstrations last month were relatively small yet significant in their rarity, the catalyst of dissent against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was an Egyptian posting videos from Spain.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, inspired millions of people to march through cities around the world in September to demand that political leaders act to stop climate change.

Tens of thousands gathered in a New York park to listen to her speech.

“If you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, then we have some very bad news for you,” she said. “Because this is only the beginning. Change is coming whether they like it or not.”

(Reporting by Reuters correspondents; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Heather Timmons in Washington; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Sonya Hepinstall)

Strong quake in Peru kills one person, disrupts some oil operations

An aerial view shows a landslide caused by a quake in Yurimaguas, in the Amazon region, Peru May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

LIMA (Reuters) – A magnitude 8 earthquake killed one person, destroyed dozens of homes and disrupted some oil operations as it rocked Peru early on Sunday, authorities said.

The quake – the biggest to hit Peru since 2007 – was felt across the country and in neighboring Ecuador and Colombia after striking the sparsely-populated region of Loreto in Peru’s northern Amazon.

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra said the hardest hit areas were the towns of Yurimaguas and Tarapoto.

“In reality, it’s affected all of the Peruvian jungle,” Vizcarra told journalists in broadcast comments as he surveyed the damage in Yurimaguas.

A 48-year-old man was killed in the region of Cajamarca after a boulder struck his home, emergency officials said. Peru’s National Emergency Center (COEN) said there were at least 11 people injured and more than 50 homes destroyed. Several schools, churches, hospitals and clinics were also damaged.

State-owned oil company Petroperu said the quake created a “minor” leak in a pipe at its Talara refinery on the Pacific coast that it said it has since controlled. It also suspended oil pumping at its Station 1 facility in Loreto in order to evaluate damage it detected there, it said in a statement.

Peru's President Martin Vizcarra accompanied by members of his cabinet speaks to the media before leaving for the area affected by earthquake, at the Jorge Chavez airport in Lima, Peru, May 26, 2019. Freddy Zarco/Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra accompanied by members of his cabinet speaks to the media before leaving for the area affected by earthquake, at the Jorge Chavez airport in Lima, Peru, May 26, 2019. Freddy Zarco/Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

A spokeswoman for Canadian oil company Frontera Energy , which operates Peru’s largest oil block in of Loreto, said there were no damages to its installations.

TV images showed large fissures in a highway in Cajamarca and piles of mud and debris that had swept onto other roads.

Peru sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where the majority of the world’s seismic activity occurs.

The quake on Sunday was rated as one of “intermediate depth” at around 110 kilometers (68 miles). Intermediate depth quakes typically cause less surface damage than shallower tremors.

The earthquake was around 75 km SSE of Lagunas and 180 km east of the town of Moyobamba, the USGS said.

There were local reports of electric power cuts in the cities of Iquitos and Tarapoto, Amazonian towns in the Loreto region of the country. Pictures and videos online also showed some cracked and damaged walls, homes shaking and a collapsed bridge.

In neighboring Ecuador, the quake was strongest near the Amazonian region of Yantzaza, causing momentary power outages.

Ecuadorian officials reported at least seven people injured, as well as mudslides and minor damage to homes. The country´s oil and mining infrastructure was operating normally, Ecuadorian Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Mitra Taj in Lima; Writing by Adam Jourdan, Dave Sherwood and Mitra Taj; Editing by Keith Weir, Phil Berlowitz and Susan Thomas)

Earthquake along Ecuador’s coast kills one, destroys hotels

Map of location in Ecuador, center of earthquake

QUITO (Reuters) – A 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador’s Pacific coast early on Monday, killing one person, injuring a dozen others and damaging hotels in the area, authorities said.

The country’s geological institute recorded the quake off the coast of Atacames in Esmeraldas province, northwest of Quito, the capital. The quake was followed by 15 lesser-magnitude aftershocks.

“We regret that a 75-year-old woman suffered a heart attack because of the quake,” national risk management secretary Susana Duenas told local radio. The health ministry said a dozen people were injured.

In a preliminary report, authorities said three hotels in the area, a popular tourist destination, were destroyed and other buildings sustained substantial damage.

President Rafael Correa was meeting with local officials in the area, which was devastated in a 7.8 magnitude quake earlier this year that killed about 670 people, displaced thousands and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Oil infrastructure in the area was unaffected by Monday’s quake, the state oil company Petroecuador said.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Magnitude 6.4 quake strikes Ecuador’s northwest coast, no deaths reported

QUITO (Reuters) – A shallow earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 struck Ecuador’s northwest coast on Sunday, in the region of April’s deadly quake, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.

The quake was centered near the town of Esmeraldas, northwest of the capital Quito, at a depth of about 35 km (22 miles), the USGS said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue a tsunami warning immediately after the quake.

President Rafael Correa said authorities had not received any reports of casualties or material damage.

“We must remain calm,” Correa said during a telephone call to a state-run television station.

“These are normal replicas, though the fear that people feel is understandable – especially the victims of the April 16 quake.”

The tremor was felt in Quito and the coastal business hub of Guayaquil, with residents streaming out of buildings into the streets, according to witnesses.

Calm quickly returned to both cities after residents saw that no damage had been done.

The coastal region has been hit by a series of quakes since the April 7.8 tremor that killed more than 650 people, the nation’s strongest quake in decades.

In May, two successive quakes measuring 6.7 and 6.8 in magnitude killed one person and caused minor damage.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, Michael Perry and Mary Milliken Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Ryan Woo)

Ecuador to hike taxes, sell assets to fund quake rebuilding

Aerial view of Pedernales, after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast

By Ana Isabel Martinez and Diego Oré

PEDERNALES/QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters) – Ecuador will temporarily increase some taxes, sell assets, and may issue new bonds on the international market to fund a multi-billion dollar reconstruction after a devastating 7.8 magnitude quake, a somber President Rafael Correa said on Wednesday.

The death toll from Ecuador’s weekend earthquake neared 600 and rescue missions ebbed as the traumatized Andean nation braced itself for long and costly rebuilding.

“It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of the tragedy. Every time we visit a place, there are more problems,” Correa said, fresh from touring the disaster zone.

The leftist leader estimated the disaster had inflicted $2 billion to $3 billion of damage and could knock 2 to 3 percentage points off growth, meaning the economy will almost certainly shrink this year. Lower oil revenue had already left the poor nation of 16 million people facing near-zero growth and lower investment.

In addition to $600 million in credit from multilateral lenders, Correa, an economist, announced a raft of measures to help repair homes, roads, and bridges along the devastated Pacific Coast.

“We’re looking at the possibility of issuing bonds on the international market,” he said on Wednesday afternoon, without providing details.

Ecuador had been saying before the quake that current high yields would make it too expensive to issue debt. Yields on its bonds are close to 11 percentage points higher than comparable U.S. Treasury debt, according to JPMorgan data, and creditors are likely to be wary after the quake.

Correa’s government in 2008 defaulted on debt with a similar yield, calling the value unfair. His government has since returned to Wall Street and Ecuador currently has some $3.5 billion worth of bonds in circulation.

In a nationally televised address later on Wednesday, Correa also announced the OPEC nation was poised to shed assets.

“The country has many assets thanks to investment over all these years and we will seek to sell some of them to overcome these difficult moments,” he said.

He also unveiled several short-term tax changes, including a 2-point increase in the Valued Added Tax for a year, as well as a “one-off 3 percent additional contribution on profits,” although the fine print was not immediately clear.

The VAT tax is currently 12 percent.

Additionally, a one-off tax of 0.9 percent will be imposed on people with wealth of over $1 million. Ecuadoreans will also be asked to contribute one day of salary, calculated on a sliding scale based on income.

‘FOOD, PLEASE’

Briefly pausing talk of reconstruction and hindering rescuers, another quake, of 6.2 magnitude, shook the coast before dawn on Wednesday, terrifying survivors.

“You can’t imagine what a fright it was. ‘Not again!’ I thought,” said Maria Quinones in Pedernales town, which bore the brunt of Saturday’s disaster.

That quake, the worst in decades, killed 570 people, injured 7,000 others, damaged close to 2,000 buildings, and forced over 24,000 survivors to seek refuge in shelters, according to government tallies.

Four days on, some isolated communities struggled without water, power or transport, as torn-up roads stymied deliveries. Along the coast, stadiums served as morgues and aid distribution centers.

“I’m waiting for medicines, diapers for my grandson, we’re lacking everything,” said Ruth Quiroz, 49, as she waited in an hour-long line in front of a makeshift pharmacy set up at the Pedernales stadium.

On a highway outside the town, some children sat holding placards saying: “Food, please.”

When a truck arrived to deliver water to the small town of San Jacinto, hungry residents surrounded the vehicle and hit it as they yelled: “We want food!”

Scores of foreign aid workers and experts have arrived in the aftermath of Saturday’s disaster and about 14,000 security personnel have kept order, with only sporadic looting reported. But rescuers were losing hope of finding anyone alive even as relatives of the missing begged them to keep looking.

Speaking from the highland capital, Quito, Correa said the death toll would likely rise further, although at a slower rate than in previous days. “May these tears fertilize the soil of the future,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia and Diego Ore in Quito, Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Tom Brown, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

Trapped Ecuador survivors searching for hope

Red Cross members, military and police officers work at a collapsed area after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta

By Julia Symmes Cobb

PEDERNALES, Ecuador (Reuters) – During a terrifying five hours trapped in the rubble of her own restaurant, Filerma Rayo almost lost hope.

“I was yelling and yelling and then, at the end, I started to think I would die there,” said Rayo, 33, as she nursed a crushed foot, pinned by a falling piece of cement when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador on Saturday.

The Andean nation’s worst quake in a decade killed more than 270 people, injured another 2,000, flattened buildings and tore apart roads along the Pacific coast.

“It was my siblings who saved us, the rescue teams hadn’t arrived yet,” said Rayo, who runs a restaurant on the bottom floor of a now-shattered hotel in the worst-hit town of Pedernales, a rustic beach location on the Pacific coast.

Her three brothers and sisters, also from Pedernales, came looking for Rayo and her husband, who suffered head injuries, after the quake. Guided by her shouts, they managed to remove the rubble and pull her out around midnight, well before emergency crews arrived.

Nearly 100 neighbours in Pedernales were not so lucky.

They died when the earthquake struck, sending pastel top floors crashing to the ground, punching holes in the façade of the church on the main square and obliterating a local hotel, its roof jack-knifed and crumbling.

Many residents, including Rayo and her family, spent a restless Sunday night sleeping outside on mattresses in the muggy tropical night, wary of aftershocks.

CORPSES IN STADIUM

Others, too uneasy to sleep, watched from the sidelines as firefighters continued rescue operations in some buildings, calling for silence so they could listen for cries for help.

More than 600 people were treated for injuries at tents in the town’s still-intact football stadium, or were transported by ambulance or helicopter to regional hospitals.

Most of the corpses recovered were taken to the stadium and laid out under tents. Only four of 91 had not been identified by families. Wakes and burials were being quickly arranged.

Queues for supplies like bottled water, blankets and food snaked along the stadium walls, as government and Red Cross workers rushed with aid supplies to the lush, hilly zone next to Pacific beaches.

Residents complained that a lack of electricity was keeping them from using mobile phones to contact loved ones.

Many lost all their possessions.

“There’s nothing left of the houses and nowhere safe to stay,” said housewife Betty Reyna, 44, who was keeping watch over a dozen members of her family as they slept under a gas station awning early on Monday.

Reyna, her daughter and son had travelled from the capital Quito in search of relatives when they heard about the destruction in her hometown.

They were able to find some family members but Reyna had still not seen her parents or other daughter, though she had made contact with them and knew they were largely unharmed. Her father, however, had suffered head injuries.

“We’re taking everyone back to Quito as soon as we can, at least until things calm down here.”

More than 1,000 policemen, brought in to guarantee calm, patrolled Pedernales’ streets ahead of an expected visit by President Rafael Correa.

Rayo hopes she and her neighbours will get the support they need to rebuild their homes and businesses in the long term, but her immediate request is simple.

“We need everything,” she said. “I couldn’t even get pain medication at the medical tent.”

(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Bernadette Baum)

Ecuador’s President To Resign If Abortion Made Legal

The president of Ecuador said he will resign his office if the National Assembly makes abortion legal.

The Assembly is in the process of reforming the nation’s Penal Code. He said that some members of his own governing alliance is pushing to make abortion legal.

“They can do whatever they want. I will never approve the decriminalization of abortion,” President Rafael Correa said.

Correa was first elected in 2007 and re-elected to a third term in February. He is considered a far-left wing leader who is extremely critical of the United States and other western nations. He has given asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and has offered it to accused U.S. cyberterrorist Edward Snowden.

“Where do we say we should decriminalize abortion? On the contrary, our constitution pledges to defend life from the moment of conception,” Correa said on state TV.