On March 27, over 200 officers from the irregular housing prevention agency STPAHI arrived at the squatter settlement on the shores of the Estero Salado, an estuary that flows through the city which the government of President Rafael Correa has declared a protected area.
Amid clashes with residents, the officials used heavy machinery to tear down the houses, mostly made of wood and improvised materials. STPAHI chief Julio César Quiñónez argued that the eviction notice had been issued 20 days earlier, with the agency warning the inhabitants that they had to leave the area within 48 hours on March 5. However, it later decided to extend the period by three weeks, giving residents more time to relocate.
Quiñónez added that over 100 additional houses will be destroyed soon, but claimed that the government is offering other housing plans where the evacuees can acquire new residences at affordable prices, and that 33 of the 40 evicted families had already signed up for one such program.
However, other members of the community denied having the resources to buy a house again. “We have no money to eat, and they want us to buy another lot,” one of those affected told local broadcaster Ecuavisa.
On Saturday, the municipal authorities of Guayaquil offered help to these families, by providing three large tents to sleep in as well as medical assistance. The move, however, was criticized by government officials.
Provincial Governor Rolando Panchana called on Mayor Jaime Nebot to remove the tents immediately. “I demand the mayor of Guayaquil stops this Pharisee behavior. This false solidarity of assembling little field tents in the affected zone doesn’t suit him,” he said.
An Attack on Human Rights
The evictions caused outrage beyond the inhabitants of the sector. Several civil-society organizations, led by the Permanent Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDH), came to the defense of those affected, claiming that the destruction of these houses by the governmental authorities is a violation of their human rights.
Fernando Gutiérrez, president of CDH, told local broadcaster Teleamazonas that the Isla Trinitaria eviction was “a gross and massive violation of the human rights of this population.”
He explained that most of these families have more than a decade living in the settlement, which is one of the poorest in the country, and is mostly populated by Afro-Ecuadorian families, who according to the Ecuadorian Constitution enjoy special protection guaranteed by the state.
“The Constitution protects many of the rights these people have, especially the right to housing, which, in addition, has to be adequate,” Gutiérrez asserted.
The government denies the allegations, arguing that the squatter settlements are illegal, and that the evictions took place without any violence. Officials have claimed Isla Trinitaria residents attacked police officers when protesting against their eviction earlier in March.
Habrán acciones legales contra responsables, ¿Dónde están lo organismos de DDHH para defender a policías heridos?
— Rolando Panchana (@rolandopanchana) March 27, 2015
“There will be legal action against the perpetrators. Where are the human-rights organizations defending the injured policemen?”
Jhony Yagual, one of the displaced residents, denied on Tuesday that the affected families had received any alternative housing support from the government. Furthermore, he argued that no government official had gone to the neighbourhood to talk to them or to check up on their situation.
Likewise, he denied allegations about the alleged violent demonstrations, claiming that the police attacked a peaceful demonstration. “There were police officers who applied electric shocks to two pregnant women. One of them already lost the baby, and the other one is about to lose hers,” Yagual said.
The community has received a huge level of social-media support. Ernesto Yitux is one of those volunteering to raise awareness of the case, and is leading a campaign to support the evicted families.
“The amount of buzz that the hashtag #TrinitariaEnPaz (Trinitaria in Peace) has reached, reflected by the amount of donations and people interested in the subject, gives us hope that it can grow even more and reach the relevant authorities, to make them aware and resolve the situation,” he told the PanAm Post.
The goal of the campaign, he says, is that the people’s demands of relocation are met, and that abuses like these are not repeated in the subsequent evictions that will be conducted in the area.
Karla Morales, director of Human Rights For All, described the forced relocation in Isla Trinitaria as an “inhumane act, which not only violates basic rights, but also highlights the [little] importance that the state gives to the respect and enjoyment of the human rights of its citizens.”
In addition, she argued that the actions taken by the Ecuadorian government go against international legal provisions on the matter, as mandated by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which establishes that evictions must respect international human-rights standards.
Morales explains that these imply reasonable timeframes, dialog between the parties, and that no affected family is left without a place to live.
Edited by Laurie Blair. Update: 10:46 a.m. EDT, April 6, 2015.