Perspectives on the Pandemic: Why Ecuador Has a Serious Outbreak

April 19, 2020 Updated: May 5, 2020

Commentary

“Guayaquil is at this moment a great gray cloud,” María Leonor Inca, an indigenous journalist based in Ecuador, posted on Twitter on April 2.

Guayaquil, the largest city and the main port of Ecuador, has been hard-hit by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. Its mayor also recently tested positive for the CCP virus.

Up to 150 corpses, all people who died due to the CCP virus, are picked up daily, Jorge Wated, leader of a government task force, told the El Universo newspaper. With the municipal morgue at capacity, a greater number of bodies may be waiting on sidewalks and inside homes, he added.

Though the country is geographically far from the epicenter of China, why is Ecuador hit hard by the virus?

The Epoch Times editorial article, “Where Ties With Communist China Are Close, the Coronavirus Follows” suggests that “the heaviest-hit regions outside China all share a common thread: close or lucrative relations with the communist regime in Beijing.”

In fact, there are Beijing-friendly elements within Ecuadorian politics.

Strategic Cooperation Between Ecuador and the CCP

In January 1980, the CCP established diplomatic relations with Ecuador. China and Ecuador established a “political consultation” system in 1997, held once every two years.

On Nov. 8, 2007, Ecuador ’s El Oro province and China’s Hubei province formally established sister-province relations.

In December 2010, the China-funded Confucius Institute at the San Francisco University of Quito was jointly established with the China University of Petroleum in Beijing.

In January 2015, then-Ecuadorian President Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado visited China, and China and Ecuador established a strategic partnership. In November 2016, Ecuador and China elevated their relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”

In August 2016, Ecuador and China waived visa requirements for their citizens in a bid to increase tourism between the two countries. Ecuador was the first Latin American country to do so.

On Dec. 12, 2018, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno Garces visited China. According to Chinese state media reports, “the two leaders witnessed the signing of several cooperation documents, including a memorandum of understanding on jointly promoting Belt and Road” (also known as One Belt, One Road), Beijing’s initiative to build infrastructure projects across Latin America, Africa, and central and south Asia.

China welcomed Ecuador to promote cooperation between the two sides in infrastructure, agriculture, information technology, and new energy.

Currently, China is also Ecuador’s third-largest trading partner.

Chinese Companies in Ecuador

According to Chinese media, at present, more than 90 Chinese companies are operating in Ecuador, with projects covering water conservancy and hydropower, roads and bridges, copper mines, public safety, and other fields.

The planned city of Yachay is about 75 miles north of the capital of Quito. On Nov. 25, 2015, China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC) signed a phase I contract to build the “Silicon Valley” of Ecuador near the small town of Urcuquí. The project includes planning and designing a number of tech research centers, labs, and universities, which would be integrated with industrial parks and tourism development zones. The entire project is expected to last through 2049. It was partially funded by a China Export-Import bank loan.

On Aug. 16, 2016, Ecuador’s then-Vice President Jorge Glas inaugurated Ecuador’s first fiber-optic cable plant in the southern province of Guayas. Wang Yulin, China’s ambassador to Ecuador also attended the opening ceremony.

The fiber optic plant is the result of a joint venture with Ecuador’s Holding Telconet and China’s Fiberhome Technologies.

This was China’s largest fiber-optic cable plant in Latin America. The total investment was estimated to be $15 million to $20 million. Fiberhome Technology Group accounted for 51 percent of the shares, while Telconet owned 49 percent of shares, according to China’s commerce ministry.

On July 18, 2019, Ecuador President Lenín Moreno attended the first test of 5G technology in Quito, presented by the Chinese telecom giant Huawei and Ecuador’s National Telecommunications Corporation. Moreno praised China’s technological advances at the ceremony, according to Chinese state-run media Xinhua.

Canceling Shen Yun Performances

In 2015, the New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts was set to perform a production of the dance drama “Monkey King” in the capital of Ecuador. However, less than a week before the performance, the Ecuadorian House of Culture suspended activities at the National Theater, impacting Shen Yun performances planned for May 23 and 24, 2015.

Alejandro Nadal, a spokesman for Shen Yun’s presenter in Ecuador, told local press advocacy group Fundamedios.org that the suspension of activities was illegal, as they had all the relevant permits. He said he believed the incident was part of an explicit goal by the Chinese embassy in Ecuador to cancel the performances.

The embassy had allegedly been looking for ways to get the event canceled for the last month. “We have tried telling them in every possible way that they are violating the freedom of expression of the Ecuadorian people, that they are censoring culture in a democratic country and are doing so through a foreign country,” said Nadal.

According to Shen Yun Performing Arts, theater venues where the company performs have often been pressured by local Chinese officials to cancel Shen Yun’s performances. This was the first time Shen Yun was canceled in Latin America.

The CCP has extended its censorship overseas, and the Ecuadorian theater appeared to succumb to its demands.

Ecuadorian officials instead attended performances organized by the Chinese embassy, such as a February 2016 Lunar New Year presentation with an arts group from Henan province in China, and a January 2020 gala at the Chinese embassy for commemorating 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Many top Ecuadorian officials attended, including the ministers of culture, national defense, and education.

Dam and Hydropower Station 

The Coca Codo Sinclair Dam is a hydroelectric project under CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative in Ecuador. The dam was built some 46.6 miles (75 kilometers) east of the capital Quito, on the Coca River. It’s the largest energy project in Ecuador.

The dam was constructed by state-owned Sinohydro Corporation for $2.25 billion. The Chinese would provide Ecuador with a $1.68 billion loan to cover 85 percent of the roughly $2 billion price tag, with 6.9 percent interest.

The project has been criticized for cost overruns, technical flaws, and corruption. Ecuador also faces a huge budget deficit because of loans it received from China. Interest alone would require that Ecuador send an annual paycheck of $125 million to China for 15 years.

A full power test failed when the dam opened in 2016.

The New York Times reported about the dam’s many problems in a December 2018 report, writing: “This giant dam in the jungle, financed and built by China, was supposed to christen Ecuador’s vast ambitions, solve its energy needs and help lift the small South American country out of poverty. Instead, it has become part of a national scandal engulfing the country in corruption, perilous amounts of debt — and a future tethered to China.”

It also stated: “Nearly every top Ecuadorean official involved in the dam’s construction is either imprisoned or sentenced on bribery charges. That includes a former vice president, a former electricity minister and even the former anti-corruption official monitoring the project, who was caught on tape talking about Chinese bribes.”

In a Los Angeles Times report, the newspaper obtained a 2018 report issued by the Ecuadorian government controller’s office, which said the project’s Chinese contractor “ignored a stipulation of the construction contract, that the dam be built according to rigid standards set by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.”

The government report also revealed shady practices by Sinohydro Corp., according to the LA Times, including the “project’s ‘irresponsible and incomprehensible’ use of substandard building materials and construction methods, including inferior welds.”

“The Chinese used bad-quality steel and fired inspectors who said to change it,” former energy minister Fernando Santos told the LA Times.

However, the CCP has avoided talking about the project’s flaws and the corruption behind the dam. It has lauded the “success” of the project, calling it a landmark project for Chinese companies.

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Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.