Ecuador to close embassies, state firms over virus crisis

Aerial view of the empty Plaza Grande square in Quito on March 25, 2020 (AFP Photo/Rodrigo Buendia)

Quito (AFP) - Ecuador said Tuesday it is closing several embassies and state enterprises to save money amid an economic crisis provoked by the coronavirus pandemic.

"We will close ... embassies and diplomatic offices," President Lenin Moreno said in a speech on television and radio as he presented a plan to save more than $4 billion.

Ambassadors to Iran, Nicaragua, Malaysia and the Andean Parliament will be recalled, leaving those diplomatic missions in the hands of lower-ranking officials.

Consulates in the Mexican town of Tapachula and Valencia in Venezuela will also be closed altogether.

Ecuador previously closed diplomatic missions in Algeria, Nigeria, Belarus, Ethiopia and Angola.

Having already shut down more than 40 ministries and institutions, Moreno announced he would further reduce the state apparatus by eliminating seven state-owned companies, including the railways and the postal service.

He said the TAME airline, which has lost more than $400 million over the last five years, will go into liquidation.

Ecuador was struggling economically before the coronavirus pandemic hit, due to high debt and its dependence on oil.

Nearly 34,000 people in the South American country have been infected with the virus and at least 2,800 have died.

Authorities have reported another 1,700 deaths probably caused by the virus outbreak but not included in the official death toll.