Galapagos paralyzed by new law

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While on continental Ecuador different sectors of society took to the streets from 8 June to demonstrate daily for and against Rafael Correa’s government, the Galapagos archipelago declared a provincial strike in rejection of the Special Regime Law for Galapagos, adopted on June 11 by the National Assembly, with government party majority, upholding the Executive’s partial veto.

Among the president’s 18 objections to the bill, two of the most controversial concern the calculation to determine pay in the public and private sectors. The basic salary in the Galapagos was, until now, 75% higher in the private sector and an additional 100% in the public sector, compared to remunerations in continental Ecuador. The Executive proposed a calculation based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Although the index is still being configured with reference to Galapagos and the law is not retroactive, part of the islands’ population believes the new law will result in lower salaries than those paid in the archipelago so far.

The difference in salaries between the islands and the mainland is due to the cost of living in the archipelago. Located one thousand kilometers from the mainland, much of the food and other products must be sent by air or sea, significantly increasing the cost of these goods. And transport is not the only reason; the shortage of products also contributes to the rise in prices. Some of the locals have said that while before a ship with food would arrive weekly to the islands, after three ships sank since 2014, only one supplies now the archipelago’s 25 thousand inhabitants every 20 days.

The government has argued that the law seeks to regulate salaries in the archipelago using what it defines as “technical” and “economic” criteria. President Correa wrote in his Twitter account that the new law will not reduce anyone’s current salary because it is not retroactive and argued that “what is technical is to calculate the price index in Galapagos and pay salaries based on that”.

Another controversial change promoted by the Executive is that budget appropriations to the autonomous and decentralized governments and the Governing Council of the Galapagos province will also be calculated according to the CPI. Before being vetoed, the bill proposed a 100% increase in the amounts handed over to the councils.
Also polemical is the elimination of the prohibition for public or private entities, non-profit organizations and tour operators to sell crafts or souvenirs. The islands’ craftspeople have claimed that this measure would affect them directly, as it would open the way for items manufactured in the continent, reducing local artisans’ incomes.
The head of state additionally proposed a fine equivalent to 50 minimum wages for those who marry or have a common-law relationship with a person who is not a permanent resident of the islands, so that they will apply to and gain this migration category.

These legislative measures have led at least 250 members of the ruling party Alianza País (AP) in Galapagos to leave the movement and burn their t-shirts and credentials. The protests intensified after the law was adopted and the protesters blocked the main access roads to airports and even took over the runway at San Cristobal airport. The three airlines that fly to the archipelago from Guayaquil had to suspend their flights during the morning of Friday 12 June and a large police and military contingent moved to the islands to confront the demonstrators, who protested mainly on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. There were clashes with the security forces in their attempt to clear the roads and reports by the interior minister, José Serrano, claimed three policemen had been attacked. The locals denied the accusations and complained about the use of tear gas against women and children.

On Friday night, the Ministry of the Interior confirmed the arrest of Eduardo Veliz, 61, a former representative for Galapagos. He was accused of inciting the public to paralyze a public service by taking over the facilities at San Cristobal’s airport, according to the police report. In a remand hearing, prosecutor Ángel Quevedo Mora filed a complaint before the relevant judge, who accepted the request for 30 days of preventive custody according to a statement issued by the Ministry. During the morning of Saturday 13 June, the prisoner was transferred to the rehabilitation center located in area 8 of Guayaquil  because the islands lack “a detention center that provides the conditions to accommodate the citizen in question”.

On Thursday 18 June, photographs and videos of Eduardo Veliz at his habeas corpus hearing circulated on Twitter. He looked tired and his shirt was torn. His appeal was dismissed and the settlers’ leader, who according to comments made on social networks, suffers from hypertension and diabetes, went on a hunger strike.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Environment (MAE) denied the information that circulated on social networks according to which the new law eliminates the boundaries of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and empowers the Ministry to set the boundaries of the National Park: “This assertion is not real. Article 18 of the adopted law states that the boundaries of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, which covers the whole of the marine area within a range of 40 nautical miles from the baseline including inland waters, remain as established”. Article 19 of the new law establishes a protection area of 60 nautical miles with which, according to the Ministry, the boundaries remain the same as those established by the previous legislation on Galapagos, issued on 18 March 1998.

The protests’ leaders in the island region have stated they will continue until the law is repealed. Today, June 25th, new demonstrations against the governmentare organized in Galapagos. They joined the protests that are taking place in other cities of Ecuador.

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