President Rafael Correa declared a “state of emergency” in Peru, suspending the rights of persons in his country, after the Cotopaxi volcano erupted on August 14th. The volcano, which last erupted in 1877 and 1880, sent plumes of ash and smoke 3 miles into the air from its 19,300 foot peak. Covered in ice and snow at the top, already there are reports of pyrochlastic flows from its west flanks, although no reports of injuries of damage have been provided.
With the suspension of rights, which President Correa said were necessary to prevent wild rumors and speculation by the media, travel restriction, press restrictions, and the suspension of guarantees against warrantless searches and seizures would be in effect for up to 60 days.
The snow capped volcano is just 30 miles south of Quito, the nation’s capital, which has a population of 2 million souls. The danger to the capital, expecially the southern suburbs, stems from the potential sudden melting of snow and ice on the volcanos flanks and pyrochlastic flows, as well as the wide dispersal of ash if the eruption becomes major. But many questions remain about whether it is necessary to suspend people’s rights, and the press, or whether the danger of the eruption is a mere pretext for the instinctive tendency of modern states to view their own citizens with suspicion and disdain.
If the eruption becomes major, which geologists cannot gainsay with certainty, it could indeed endager the people in its environs, although Quito, 30 miles to the north, would not be in direct danger beyond the effects of an ash cloud. That being said, the wholesale suspension of rights may have zero impact on preparedness or response if a major eruption occurs but it could set a dangerous precedent for power craving politicians no matter what the outcome of this latest eruption.