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Ecuador votes on extradition amid crime boom

#Ecuador #votes #extradition #crime #boom

Ecuadorans voted in a referendum Sunday that will decide whether or not to allow extradition of citizens linked to organized crime in a country rocked by a dramatic increase in violence.

The extradition of Ecuadorans is prohibited by the South American country’s constitution.

But conservative President Guillermo Lasso has proposed legalizing it as a means of dealing with a crime wave that has claimed the lives of two candidates in local elections being held alongside the referendum.

Ecuador is sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two largest cocaine producers, and has itself become a hub for the global drug trade in recent years.

Despite not having any major drug plantations or cartels of its own, nor big laboratories for refining cocaine, the United States has listed Ecuador among the top 22 drug-producing or transit countries in the world.

Drugs produced elsewhere are shipped from Ecuador’s Guayaquil port to the United States, Europe and Asia.

This has resulted in a bloody territorial war between gangs, some with ties to Mexican cartels according to the authorities, who brutally kill each other on the streets and in Ecuador’s overcrowded jails.

The country’s murder rate almost doubled between 2021 and 2022 from 14 to 25 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to official figures.

Drug seizures have skyrocketed and prison massacres have left more than 400 inmates dead since 2021.

In neighbor Colombia, extradition to the United States has proven to be a useful weapon against drug traffickers, though cocaine production is still booming.

– ‘Threaten the peace’ –

Allowing extradition is one of eight constitutional measures that some 13.4 million eligible voters among Ecuador’s 18.2 million people will be asked about in Sunday’s mandatory Yes/No vote.

Other proposals include shrinking the opposition-controlled 137-member National Assembly.

The referendum goes hand in hand with elections for mayors, municipal and neighborhood councils, and for a council that nominates people to key oversight posts.

Mayoral candidate Omar Menendez from the western town of Puerto Lopez was assassinated on the eve of Sunday’s vote.

Lasso condemned the murder Sunday and expressed his condolences to Menendez’s family and political party.

Two weeks earlier, another mayoral candidate Julio Cesar Farachio was also killed.

National Electoral Council (CNE) president Diana Atamaint called on the prosecutor’s office to investigate the crimes she said “threaten the peace of Ecuadorans.”

Analysts say Sunday’s vote will serve as a political test for Lasso, who took office in 2021 and has an unpopularity rating of 80 percent, according to a recent poll.

The opposition Citizen Revolution movement led by former socialist president Rafael Correa are campaigning for the rejection of Lasso’s proposed constitutional reforms.

The election council has 10 days to count Sunday’s votes and will announce results only after all possible challenges have been resolved.

The National Assembly, where Lasso’ ruling party has only 13 of the 137 seats, will have one year to implement any constitutional changes approved in Sunday’s referendum.

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#Ecuador #votes #extradition #crime #boom

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