After 21 people died over the weekend from drinking homemade liquor, Ecuador has instituted a three-day, nationwide ban on alcohol sales.
The law took immediate effect after people died from drinking bootleg spirits in the Los Rios province. Another 103 were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning in Los Rios and surrounding areas. The 72-hour temporary ban will give state authorities time to investigate the case.
Police have already arrested one distributor in relation to the deaths. It was found that the moonshine contained methanol (methyl alcohol), a poisonous and industrial cousin of the drinkable ethanol.
Symptoms of methanol poisoning include abdominal pain, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and difficulty in breathing. Methanol is produced when the distilling process is done improperly. Famously, methanol in bootlegged alcohol can cause blindness.
Los Rios was declared a dry state early last weekend, but illness and death still followed when people drank the illegal liquor.
Ecuador is not the first Latin American country to outlaw alcohol. The Zapatista movement in Mexico sought to criminalize liquor and many Zapatista communities, as well as other villages and towns in Mexico, have done so. A number of Nordic countries have banned the sale of alcohol in the past as well.
Will a national alcohol ban stop more deaths from happening?
History shows that temperance measures usually cannot stop people from drinking. The Prohibition in the United States famously did more to promote organized crime than it did to stop the consumption of booze.
More likely, it is the fear of death and disease that will deter people from alcohol, rather than its illegality.
Additionally, the limited ban will give investigators space to conduct their inquiry into bootlegging distribution and sale, and hopefully, the deadly drink will be contained by the time the liquor stores reopen this week. Public Health Minister David Chiriboga said that authorities have already confiscated 28 barrels of poisonous alcohol, each holding 55 gallons.
In the meantime, the people of Ecuador will have to rely on their untainted reserves for their social needs.