Ecuadoreans in Turmoil over Earthquake Funds

Judge Carmen Velásquez offers report on funds collected for Ecuador earthquake victims. (Photo by Mauricio Hernández via Queens Latino)

Judge Carmen Velásquez offers report on funds collected for Ecuador earthquake victims. (Photo by Mauricio Hernández via Queens Latino)

“I was born in Ecuador, in Manabí, grew up in Manta, and was very saddened by the damages suffered by my Manabita brothers and sisters. That’s why I joined the Board of Directors of the Migrants United for Ecuador Telethon,” said Judge Carmen Velásquez at the press conference she held at a Northern Boulevard restaurant.

The judge detailed the accounting for the monies collected at the event held in Flushing Meadows Park in support of her compatriots after the earthquake.

“We always want to guarantee transparency in our desire to help, but sometimes we cannot stop to address each person’s ego, as we are all walking on the same sidewalk, helping our sisters and brothers in need,” said Judge Velásquez.

Velásquez was referring to a recent meeting at which questions were raised about the funds that were collected by the community and why they still have not been sent to the disaster area.

Leaders, entrepreneurs and members of the Ecuadorian community attended the press conference, convened by the judge, and expressed their unanimous support and trust in the transparency of the Telethon’s bookkeeping, whose Board of Directors Velásquez organized.

“I want to congratulate the board for not making snap decisions under pressure,” said Velásquez, a distinguished personality among Ecuadorians living abroad.

“We thank her for her competence, her tenacity and honorable quality,” said Telethon board member Luis Montalvo, who worked for Local 79 for 36 years and is now the president of the Federación del Pichincha in New York.

“We are like a basket of scorpions: When some want to climb up, others want to pull them down. We refuse to acknowledge the effort of our compatriots living abroad. Egotism is king. The judge is a great worker who has raised the Ecuadorian flag in the State’s Supreme Court through her determination and hard work,” insisted Montalvo.

Charito Cisneros, who hosts a television show and leads the New York Hispanic Cosmetology and Beauty Chamber of Commerce, said: “I feel very sad with what is happening. And we should hold more events for our people, to give, not take. We’re here to work, not to waste our time.”

Gina Bolaños, also a board member, said: “The disrespect shown towards the judge saddens me. Everyone knows the magnitude of her work, which is highly commendable. It has been so complicated to work in Manabí that even the Red Cross had had issues.” She added that the money will be used to build houses and guaranteed the community that the funds will be applied to the purposes they all agreed on.

“The election of a Board of Directors for the Migrants United for Ecuador Telethon was made through a vote. There is no conflict here,” clarified Velásquez, as she underscored once again that “neither my likeness nor my name shall be used for personal affairs. If anyone does so, they will be sent a notification to stop doing it.”

Before the press conference began, Gloria Reyes was forcefully trying to get a seat at the Board of Directors’ table. “I am part of the Telethon’s Board of Directors, and I have a spot there,” she told the judge’s head of security in a loud voice. The judge invited her to sit with the press.

“Are you also an amateur reporter?” she asked me as she installed her iPad on a tripod to film the press conference. I replied that “I am a professional journalist,” and that I stay away from rumors.

Reyes was the protagonist of the press conference held a few days ago in which Judge Velásquez was questioned about the funds. This time around, Reyes was not the center of attention.

The money collected at the Telethon was counted at Local 79 as it arrived via PayPal, by check or cash. On May 31, it was deposited into a certified bank account.

“A total of $76,640 were collected, and they are in the bank, intact, waiting for all the guarantees and safety measures to be ready in order to use it to build houses with bathrooms in the areas affected by the disaster,” said Velásquez, who showed photocopies of the bank statements, as well as all the account’s details.

The judge introduced Assemblywoman Jimena Peña, appearing via satellite from Quito, who said: “Let’s not feel sad. We are one community. We are working as brothers and sisters and we continue to move forward.”

Tremor within the Ecuadorian Community

[Below are excerpts from a previous story by Javier Castaño about the boisterous meeting in which Judge Velazquez was accused with fraud]

“There was an earthquake in Ecuador, and here, in New York, our hearts also shook. That’s why we decided to help the victims,” said Gloria Reyes-Barrios at a press conference held at the Boulevard Restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens, on the evening of Thursday, October 20. “However, part of the money that was collected for this emergency has not been delivered, and we want them to do it because people are in need.”

Reyes collaborated with three organizations that mobilized to help the victims of the earthquake that shook Ecuador on April 16. Her house was one of the collection centers where clothing and medicines were gathered to be sent to the South American country. (…) Along with some of the other 50 people who attended the press conference, Reyes is blaming the 5-person group who “illegally took over the Telethon’s management and are not releasing the money.” The group is formed by Judge Carmen Velásquez, Vanessa Dewease, Gina Bolaños, Charito Cisneros and Luis Montalvo.

(…)

This was Judge Velázquez’s answer: “My commitment is not with Gloria Reyes but with the earthquake victims. We need more time because there are people in the affected zones who do not have title deeds, and many of the areas are considered high-risk and it is not recommended to build there. So far, no contracts have been issued because I am the only one authorized to write them, and I will soon travel to Ecuador to use the $72,650 [Editor’s note: This figure does not include additional monies which raised the total to the $76,640 cited in the article above.] in the account in the best possible manner. Nothing here is being done in bad faith.”

The criticism expressed at the press conference held at the Boulevard against the board of directors led by Velásquez came from people such as DJ Manuel Paida, singer Jaqueline Estrellita, Ángel Águila, Carmen Escobar, Elsa Santos, Félix Cujilán, Chinito Carrera, Fernanda Sparza and Fátima Velásquez, the judge’s cousin. They called Judge Velásquez unethical, threatening and lacking leadership, among other epithets.

“I worked a lot as a volunteer, then I was excluded, and what they are doing now with the money is inhumane,’ said Daitty Ordóñez, who started out doing public relations and was a host at the Telethon.

“Daitty did not do her job well. She wanted to have more prominence, and that’s why I decided to put her only in charge of community relations,” said Judge Velásquez.

(…)

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