Ecuador president to hold an anti-crime referendum

In office since November Noboa want to construct "a new Ecuador, a country where efforts are focused on combating violence and impunity".

Ecuador’s president, Daniel Noboa, revealed the proposed components of a referendum, aiming to authorize more stringent measures against organized crime in a nation grappling with violent gang conflicts.

Noboa, who assumed office in November, expressed the goal of “constructing a new Ecuador, a country where efforts are focused on combating violence and impunity, while also generating employment opportunities.”

During his election campaign last year, Noboa had pledged to hold a referendum, addressing the pressing issue of the country’s escalating insecurity, particularly following the assassination of a prominent presidential candidate.

Traditionally considered a safe buffer zone situated between major cocaine-exporting nations, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has witnessed a surge in violence in recent years. Rival gangs, affiliated with Mexican and Colombian cartels, are competing for dominance.

The homicide rate quadrupled between 2018 and 2022, reaching its peak last year with 7,500 killings in a nation of approximately 18 million people. Since February 2021, a staggering 460 inmates have fallen victim to massacres in prisons, with many being beheaded or burned alive amidst violent clashes between rival gangs.

President Noboa has outlined an 11-question referendum, currently under review by the Constitutional Court, aiming to address the crisis. Proposed measures include deploying the military to combat organized crime, implementing permanent roadblocks to detect illegal weapons and explosives, and imposing heightened penalties for offenses related to drugs, “terrorist” acts, organized crime involvement, murder, or kidnapping. Additionally, confiscated weapons would augment the police arsenal.

During his campaign, Noboa had suggested creating a distinct judicial system for severe crimes, fortifying borders with Colombia and Peru, and incarcerating the most violent offenders on offshore barges. At 35, Noboa became Ecuador’s youngest-ever president last year, assuming office from Guillermo Lasso, who called for snap elections to sidestep potential impeachment. Noboa will serve the remainder of Lasso’s term until 2025, which amounts to 18 months.

It’s noteworthy that Lasso had previously proposed a referendum on organized crime, but it was ultimately rejected by voters.

Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa speaks during an interview with Reuters, in Quito, Ecuador December 15, 2023. REUTERS/Karen Toro/File Photo


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