May 20th, 2024

Ecuadorians overwhelmingly approve referendum measures on toughening fight against gangs

By Gonzalo Solano, The Associated Press on April 21, 2024.

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) – Ecuador’s fledgling president got a resounding victory Sunday in a referendum that he touted as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence.

An official quick count showed that Ecuadorians overwhelmingly voted “yes” to all nine questions focused on tightening security measures, rejecting only two proposals on more controversial economic measures.

The quick count was announced by the Electoral National Council, Diana Atamaint.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) – Ecuadorians voted Sunday in a referendum touted by the country’s fledgling president as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence.

While official results were slow to be counted, an exit poll said Ecuadorians overwhelmingly voted “yes” to all nine questions focused on tightening security measures. They rejected only two proposals focusing on more controversial economic measures, the poll indicated.

Among the measures apparently headed for approval are President Daniel Noboa’s call to deploy the army in the fight against the gangs, to loosen obstacles for extraditing accused criminals and to lengthen prison sentences for convicted drug traffickers.

If electoral authorities confirm the exit poll projections, it would be a resounding victory and a sign of support for Noboa.

Ecuador was traditionally one of South America’s most peaceful countries, but it has been rocked in recent years by a wave of violence, much of it spilling over from neighboring Colombia, the world’s largest producer of cocaine. Last year, the country’s homicide rate shot up to 40 deaths per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the region.

Noboa has rallied popular support by confronting the gangs head on. That task became more urgent in January when masked gunmen, some on orders from imprisoned drug traffickers, terrorized residents and took control of a television station while it was live on the air in an unprecedented show of force.

Following the rampage, the 36-year-old president decreed an “internal armed conflict,” enabling him to use emergency powers to deploy the army in pursuit of about 20 gangs now classified as “terrorists.”

The referendum, in which 13 million Ecuadorians were called to vote, seeks to extend those powers and put them on firmer legal ground.

Noboa, ahead of the final tally, celebrated the results. “We’ve defended the country,” he said in a message posted on social media. “Now we will have more tools to fight against the delinquent and restore peace to Ecuador’s families.”

Noboa’s law and order rhetoric recalls the policies of El Salvador’s wildly popular president, Nayib Bukele, a fellow millennial, and could give him a boost politically as he prepares to run for reelection next year.

Noboa, the scion of a wealthy banana exporting family, is serving the final 18 months of a presidential term left vacant when fellow conservative Guillermo Lasso resigned amid a congressional investigation into allegations of corruption. Noboa was elected following a shortened but bloody campaign that saw one of his top rivals brazenly assassinated while campaigning.

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