Police in Guayaquil, Ecuador – the heart of the country’s coronavirus epidemic – used apparent excessive force to break up a peaceful protest held on May 14 by civil society groups, beating and injuring demonstrators.
The 40 protesters were expressing concern at what they see as the government’s lack of guidance for handling the bodies of people suspected of dying from Covid-19, insufficient funds used to address the pandemic, and a budget cut to education.
Fifteen police officers arrived at the demonstration, held at Centenario Park, broke the protester’s social distancing measures, and beat them with clubs, according to the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH), a local non-governmental organization. Videos and images shared by other civil society organizations and media outletscorroborate this. Several protesters were injured. Police also attacked journalists who were covering the demostration, according to Diario Expreso.
Police also arbitrarily detained four human rights defenders during the protest, according to the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations and CDH. For several hours, neither CDH staff nor the Ombudsperson’s Office were able to contact those arrested. According to CDH, the police report said the four detainees had verbally assaulted police officers.
At a judicial hearing on May 15, a judge ruled the police had not provided evidence that the detained protesters had committed a crime and released them, stating they were innocent.
Guayaquil is Ecuador’s city most affected by Covid-19. As of May 21, authorities had confirmed 9392 cases there, out of 35,306 nationwide. In Ecuador, authorities have attributed 2,939 deaths to Covid-19, but President Lenín Moreno has acknowledged that official counts “are falling short.” Analysis of public health data suggests the number of Covid-related deaths is likely much higher. Some families have reported that authorities took days to remove bodies from homes and that they have had to visit several morgues and hospitals to locate the bodies of their loved ones to give them a proper burial.
Accountability is key to deterring future police abuses. It is important to note that the investigation into abuses and crimes by demonstrators committed during massive protests in October 2019 remain pending. Investigations into all these allegations are key to ensure that police act within the law, even during a pandemic.