On Tuesday, June 9, the Ecuadorian National Assembly voted by a margin of 88 to 35 to uphold a presidential action that many residents of the Galápagos say will hit them squarely in the wallet. President Rafael Correa had vetoed provisions of the Law on the Special Regime of the Galápagos Province that make wages higher in the Galápagos than on the mainland of Ecuador. The law—in draft form—was reviewed by a congressional committee that accepted the President’s veto and it was then ratified by Tuesday’s plenary session of the assembly. The session was frequently interrupted by a group of Galapagueños shouting slogans from the balcony of the assembly chamber.
This followed a number of protests and marches Monday in Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal by concerned Galapagueños.
So far the protests have been peaceful. But via social networks, some citizens have reported increased police presence in the islands and the US Embassy in Ecuador issued a statement warning American citizens to stay away from any demonstrations.
Gina Andrade of Radio Encantada and other media organizations reported that Monday evening, protestors occupied the airline terminal building of the airport on San Cristóbal Island. At one point, after some of the participants went outside toward the runway, they were pushed back by police.
Since 1998 Galapagos has been governed by a special law designed to “preserve the Galapagos Archipelago for present and future generations.”
A couple of years ago, the National Assembly began studying law reforms and on April 28, 2015 the final text of the Draft Law on the Special Regime of the Galapagos Province was presented for a vote.
On May 29 President Rafael Correa filed eighteen partial vetoes, amending provisions of the bill, including one on remuneration. So far, according to the law, public employees were receiving wages in Galapagos 100% higher than on the mainland and private sector employees 75% more. President Correa proposes that the National Institute of Statistics and Census calculate future wages based on the cost of living index in Galapagos.
This veto and it acceptance by the National Assembly committee spurred the protest marches and a flurry of angry messages on Twitter and Facebook as well as other social networks.
The Mayor of Santa Cruz, Leopoldo Bucheli, told the newspaper El Comercio: “For people in Galápagos, this is very worrisome. The cost of living in Galápagos is enormous and now worse because in the last eight months, three freighters that brought cargo to the Galápagos sank and only one is bringing food supplies.”
Angel Vilema, who represented Galápagos in the National Assembly, voted against accepting the presidential veto and then resigned as a member of the ruling party Alianza Pais. Shortly after that, the party announced that Vilema had been expelled. Vilema told the newspaper El Universo that he was resigning because “the government proposal would be regressive for the rights of workers.”
The Galápagos publication Periódico El Colono reports that in addition to staging the June 8 march, activists are asking members of the Alianza Pais to follow Vilema’s example and resign from the party.
César Velastegui, a reporter for the Ecuadorian television network Ecuavisa tweeted that 250 members of Alianza Pais had quit the party and burned their t-shirts and credentials in protest. Other reports put the number of resignations at 300.
For his part, President Rafael Correa in his weekly broadcast June 6 said. “” We have had many problems this week because of the presidential veto on the Law of Galápagos. Because life is more expensive in Galápagos, civil servants earned twice than people in the mainland and in the private sector, 75% more. So what did the President do? We have said we will calculate the price index in Galápagos. If it is two, we will pay 100% more to the public and the private sectors. It’s technical. I’d rather lose all the votes in Galápagos than lose my conscience.”
Several inhabitants of Galapagos unwilling to be identified told Galápagos Digital that in addition to the salary issues, there are other parts of the law that would be detrimental to their interests. “The stipulations, prohibitions and restrictions, although motivated by environmental concerns, often show little practical knowledge of our life in the Archipelago,” said a Galapagueño, referring to changes in how tourism concessions are handled. Another resident expressed concern that the proposed law seems to give foreigners easier access to investing in Galápagos and that there is no clear information about new hotel construction.
We will continue to update this news and we welcome comments.