Ecuador: Vaccinegate Rumbles On As Elections Loom

As frontline health workers begin to receive COVID-19 vaccinations across the region, Ecuador has seen the rich and powerful jump the queue in a sustained and systematic manner. The scandal has engulfed the country for weeks, and new names continue to appear. The latest to receive a ‘VIP Vaccine’ is Alfredo Borrero Maldonado, son of Alfredo Borrero who is currently the VP candidate of neoliberal banker Guillermo Lasso. 

Ecuadorian outlet, Ruta Kritica, confirmed the rumors on April 5th, just 6 days before the country heads to the polls for the second-round presidential run-off, in which the Lasso-Borrero ticket will face down the leftist correista Arauz-Rabascall ticket, for control of Ecuador’s future. 

Leaked documents show that Alfredo Borrero Maldonado received his first dose of the Pfizer jab on March 5th, despite not being a frontline health worker. His father, and VP candidate, has a long career in the private health business. He was President of the Association of Private Hospitals and Clinics of Ecuador, between 2007-2014, and currently teaches ‘Management of Healthcare Institutions’ in the business school at the elite private University of the Americas (UDLA) in Quito.  

Borrero is hoping to bolster the fortunes of his sector if he becomes VP, with plans to create ‘Free trade zones in health’, consisting of the partial privatization of existing public hospitals and incentives for health corporations to build new private clinics. 

Their rival, Presidential candidate Andrés Arauz, condemned the news, stating, “It is outrageous to learn that Dr. Borrero’s son, Lasso’s VP, was vaccinated without being an at risk person. We cannot allow health to be a privilege. The choice is between distribution or transparency, between the banks of the country.”

On health policy as a whole, Arauz stands diametrically opposed to the market-based approach proposed by Lasso-Borrero. Arauz has pledged to protect public hospitals from privatization and to re-hire the 6000 public health professionals that were cut by Lenin Moreno’s government to meet IMF debt obligations.

Vacunados VIP

Borrero is not the first powerful figure to have family members cut the queue, taking vital and scarce supplies away from health workers and those with underlying conditions. The wife of current neoliberal President Lenin Moreno, Rocia Moreno, was vaccinated on the 22nd of January when there were only a handful of vaccines for the whole country. 

Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín was also given the jab, a day after the President’s wife. Jarrín is one of the strongmen of the Lenin Moreno regime, his Ministry played an important role coordinating with the Interior Ministry, to repress anti-IMF protests in October 2019. 11 protesters were killed by the state as a result.

The full list of ‘VIPs’ who have used their powerful connections to get vaccinated, stands at around 500, including numerous sitting Ministers, business leaders, and senior figures in academia and journalism. The director of TeleAmazonas, a staunchly right-wing corporate TV channel, Sebastián Corral, was awarded with a Pfizer jab. Even the most recent Health Minister, Juan Carlos Zevallos who was supposed to be coordinating the vaccination of those most at risk, was revealed to have taken one for himself. He promptly resigned and fled to Miami upon this becoming public knowledge.

This scandal is just the latest, and perhaps last, to hit Lenin Moreno, who has seen his approval ratings plummet to single figures, following four years of free-market reforms that have caused extreme poverty to double during his term in office. In 2017, Moreno was elected with 51% of the vote, presenting himself as the successor of former leftist President Rafael Correa. Once in power, he swerved rapidly and dramatically and brought back the IMF, and gleefully implemented the austerity policies that come as a condition of loans from such institutions. As a result, his party (Alianza País) had their share of the vote crash to just 1.54% at the first round of Presidential elections in February this year. 

Ecuador’s left says that Sunday’s vote could mark the end of this 4 year period of economic decline, corruption, and repression. Polls show that Arauz has a small lead over the Lasso-Borrero ticket, the recent endorsement from the President of Ecuador’s largest Indigenous organization, CONAIE, has also bolstered Arauz’s chances. However, there are serious concerns from international observers about the possibility of judicial attempts to prevent an Arauz victory. Some within the Ecuadorian right, such as Pachakutik leader Yaku Pérez, have gone as far as calling for military intervention to ban Arauz from standing and to legally annul the Feburary 7th first round in which the left came first.