Ecuador president to put anti-crime plan to a referendum

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Ecuador’s president on Wednesday outlined the proposed contents of a referendum he hopes will greenlight tougher measures against organized crime in a country gripped by bloody gang wars.

Daniel Noboa, who took office in November, told a local broadcaster the aim was to “build a new Ecuador, a country where violence and impunity are fought, and jobs are created.”

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Noboa had promised a referendum while campaigning ahead of last year’s elections, in which the country’s growing insecurity was a key issue, especially after the assassination of a leading presidential candidate.

Long a peaceful haven between top cocaine exporters Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has seen violence explode in recent years as enemy gangs with links to Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for control.

The murder rate quadrupled from 2018 to 2022, while last year became the most violent yet with 7,500 homicides in the country of about 18 million people.

At least 460 inmates have been massacred in prisons since February 2021, many beheaded or burned alive in fighting between enemy gangs.

Noboa said the referendum would contain 11 questions, drafts of which have been submitted to the Constitutional Court for approval.

Proposals he hopes to put to voters include deploying the military to fight organized crime, setting up permanent roadblocks to find illegal weapons and explosives, and increasing penalties for those found guilty of drug crimes, “terrorist” acts, involvement in organized crime, murder, or kidnapping.

Weapons confiscated in the clampdown would be added to the police arsenal, under the proposals.

On the campaign trail, Noboa had proposed creating a separate judicial system for the most serious crimes, militarizing the borders with Colombia and Peru, and jailing the most violent offenders on barges offshore.

Noboa became Ecuador’s youngest-ever president last year at the age of 35. He took over from Guillermo Lasso, who called snap elections to avoid possible impeachment.

Noboa will serve only 18 months until 2025, the remainder of Lasso’s term.

Lasso had also called a referendum on the issue of organized crime, but his initiative was rejected by voters.

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