Prepared to fire the Ecuadorian president or lawmakers from office

QUITO, Ecuador — A showdown between Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso and the opposition-led National Assembly could see either side kicked out of office this week as lawmakers try to put him on trial on embezzlement charges and he considers whether to exercise his constitutional power to dissolve the legislature.

On Tuesday, lawmakers will continue the impeachment proceedings against the right-wing politician in a session of the unicameral assembly, in which Lasso will also participate.

Political tensions have risen in Ecuador since Lasso, a former banker, was elected in 2021 and has clashed with strong opposition in the assembly from the start. At the same time, the South American country has seen an increase in drug-related violence, including several massacres in prisons in the past two years.

Whatever happens this week, the country’s general instability is sure to deepen.

“The removal of the president, as an institutional earthquake in any democracy, will be an event that shakes the country’s political scene,” said Laura Lizarazo, senior analyst for Ecuador and Colombia at global firm Control Risks.

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The opposition is trying to impeach Lasso for the second time, but last year he did not get enough votes.

Tuesday’s session could stretch into Wednesday as Lasso’s accusers and defenders prepare for hours of arguments and 10-minute remarks from 137 lawmakers who want to speak in the politically charged case.

After the debate, the opposition is expected to reach the 92 votes needed to remove Lasso, but it remains unclear exactly when in the next five days the Assembly leadership will schedule a vote on the measure, although lawmakers have indicated it could happen as soon as Saturday. It is also unknown whether Lasso will dissolve the legislature to keep his job and rule by decree until presidential and legislative elections are called.

Lawmakers accuse Lasso of not intervening to terminate a contract between state-owned oil transport company Flota Petrolera Ecuatoriana and private Amazonas Tankers. Prosecutors argue that Lasso knew the contract was riddled with irregularities and cost the state millions.

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But lawmakers have so far offered no evidence. Lasso, who has denied the allegations, told foreign media in April that he would not hesitate to dissolve the Assembly if his removal were imminent.

“We expect the gradual deterioration of security seen in Ecuador over the past year to continue, as well as the high level of discontent among the population, who feel that democratic institutions, both the General Assembly and the executive branch, are disconnected from their most pressing needs, which include unemployment, related to violence, unprecedented levels of organized crime extortion and petty crime,” Lizarazo said.

Impeachment proceedings are separate from criminal investigations. The Ecuadorian prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation, but no charges were brought against Lasso.

According to Constitutional Prosecutor Andre Benavides, the charges against Lasso do not fit into an embezzlement case because neither the damage to the state nor the alleged personal benefit of the president can be established.

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“There is no money trail in this case, it doesn’t exist,” Benavides said.

The Organization of American States urged lawmakers on Monday to “offer all guarantees of justice and respect the rules of due process” during the week’s proceedings.