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As mayor of Ecuador’s capital faces possible removal, councilman throws a glass of water at him

Quito Councilman Fernando Morales hurled a glass of water at Mayor Jorge Yunda during his speech for Ecuador's Independence Day on Aug. 10. (Video: Municipio de Quito)
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BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The embattled mayor of Ecuador’s capital stood before the city council on Tuesday afternoon, giving a speech in honor of his country’s Independence Day, when he was interrupted mid-sentence.

“This tenth of August,” Quito Mayor Jorge Yunda said, “may we remember how they offered their lives so that we could have freedom …”

Just then, a member of the council rose from his chair and doused the mayor with a glass of water, hurling a plastic cup at him.

“Shameless!” the council member, Fernando Morales, shouted as police escorted him out of the room. “Have some decency. Quito does not deserve what you are doing. … You should resign!”

The dramatic scene, which was captured on video that quickly circulated online, became a symbol of the ongoing political power struggle in the city of more than 2 million people, as the mayor faces allegations of wrongdoing and possible removal from office — again.

“What I did today is what any Quiteño would have done,” Morales told reporters after the incident, describing it as a “show of indignation at so much corruption, so many malicious actions.”

Hours later, the mayor responded in a tweet, saying that “today’s aggression is part of the attack on Quito” by “those who are willing to do anything to reach power.”

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In June, the council removed Yunda from office after he was accused of, among other things, a lack of transparency about public spending. After a court upheld the removal, the deputy mayor, Santiago Guarderas, stepped into the role for nearly two weeks. But late last month, after an appeal from Yunda, a provincial court revoked the decision and reinstated Yunda to the mayor’s office.

Meanwhile, Yunda is under investigation by the prosecutor’s office in connection with allegations of embezzlement related to the purchase of faulty coronavirus tests; he is required to wear an electronic tracker as the investigation continues. Yunda, who took office in May 2019 and has two years left in his term, has denied the allegations against him and described them as unfair political attacks.

As a constitutional court in Quito prepares to resolve the legal dispute over the mayor’s office, dozens of unions and organizations on Tuesday called for marches through Quito in protest of Yunda’s leadership. Carrying signs that read “Yunda Out,” hundreds of Quito residents marched to the constitutional court to demand the mayor’s removal. In other parts of the city, crowds of the mayor’s supporters also marched, waving banners and honking horns while shouting, “We are with you!”

As the opposing protests continued, Ecuadorans on Twitter both condemned and celebrated the councilman who launched the glass of water at the mayor. To some, it captured the frustration that many Quito residents feel with the mayor and the political upheaval in the city. “Somebody said enough,” one resident tweeted. But to others, it was an unnecessary display of “violence” on a day meant to honor the country’s independence.

Tuesday’s holiday, known as the Primer Grito de Independencia, or First Cry of Independence, in Ecuador also marks the day when the citizens of Quito became the first in Latin America to declare independence from Spain.

Francisco Montahuano, a political scientist and professor at Universidad Hemisferios in Quito, said he does not support Yunda’s decision to defy the initial court order of removal from the mayor’s office. But Montahuano described Morales’s actions as “unacceptable.”

“It was an act of violence, of symbolic violence,” Montahuano said, committed on a historic day, not only for the country but for the continent.

By throwing the glass of water at Yunda, the political scientist argued, Morales also gives the populist mayor an excuse to play the victim and to accuse his critics of classism and racism and of attacking him for “working for the people.”

“When council member Morales throws water at him, it justifies this discourse of victimization that Yunda has,” Montahuano said.

On Tuesday, the mayor described himself on Twitter as “a man of peace."

“I’m here to work for and with the people,” he said. “Let’s not be deterred. Let’s continue, because there’s much to do.”

But in a video released on Twitter, Morales defended his decision to throw a glass of water at the mayor.

“It’s the least I could have done,” Morales said. “Every day he mocks Quiteños, every day the resources are inadequately focused and directed.”

“What I did today is what every Quiteño, any good man or woman, would do,” he added. “Launch water at him to purify the council, to purify so many actions that have destroyed our city.”

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