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Ecuadorians vote in referendum to approve increased fight against gangs: NPR

A woman holds the ballot during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to approve new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21 2024.

Dolores Ochoa/AP


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A woman holds the ballot during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to approve new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21 2024.

Dolores Ochoa/AP

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador’s new president won a resounding victory Sunday in a referendum he billed as a way to crack down on the criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence.

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

The rapid count was announced by the president of the National Electoral Council, Diana Atamaint. He confirmed that a private poll released hours earlier indicated a resounding victory and a sign of support for President Daniel Noboa, scion of a wealthy banana exporting family.

Among the approved measures are President Noboa’s call to deploy the army in the fight against gangs, remove obstacles to the extradition of accused criminals and lengthen prison sentences for convicted drug traffickers.

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


President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum in favor of new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs responsible for increased violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024.

César Muñoz/AP


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President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum in favor of new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs responsible for increased violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024.

César Muñoz/AP

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

Following this carnage, the 36-year-old president declared an “internal armed conflict”, allowing him to use emergency powers to deploy the army in pursuit of around twenty gangs now classified as “terrorists”.

The referendum, in which more than 13 million Ecuadorians were called to vote, contained measures aimed at extending these powers and putting them on a more solid legal basis.

For some analysts, the Ecuadorian leader must show results to live up to popular support.

“It gives it a certain vigor,” said Andrea Endara, an analyst and professor at Casa Grande University. But “if the president does not begin to take steps to demonstrate that voting ‘yes’ brings results in reducing insecurity, that support will quickly be diluted.”

Some of the approved measures involve changes to the Ecuadorian constitution, but since they have already been approved by the Constitutional Court, Noboa only needs to publish them in the Official Gazette to come into force. Some of these initiatives are linked to the use of the army and extradition.

For changes that require modifying certain general laws, the president will have to send a reform proposal to the Assembly, which will have 60 days to process it.

Noboa, before the final count, celebrated the results. “We defended the country,” he said in a message posted on social media. “We will now have more tools to fight criminals and restore peace to Ecuadorian families.”

Noboa’s law-and-order rhetoric is reminiscent of the policies of El Salvador’s wildly popular President Nayib Bukele, another millennial, and could give him a political boost as he prepares to run for re-election next year. next year.

Noboa is serving the final 18 months of a presidential term left vacant when fellow conservative Guillermo Lasso resigned amid a congressional investigation into corruption allegations. Noboa was elected after a shortened but bloody campaign in which one of his main rivals was brazenly murdered while campaigning.

“We cannot live in fear of leaving our home,” said Leonor Sandoval, a 39-year-old housewife, after voting for all 11 proposals.

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