Ecuador president’s war on crime gets a boost with early referendum results and gang member’s arrest

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Early results from Ecuador’s referendum suggest President Daniel Noboa has won public backing for security measures aimed at boosting his war on crime.

His government looks on track to win support for nine of the 11 proposals it put forward in Sunday’s vote, including for four of its key security measures, according to data from the National Electoral Council (CNE).

And the good news for Noboa was compounded Monday when police announced they had arrested a notorious alleged gang leader.

Early results from the referendum suggest 72% of the public approve of allowing the military to patrol with police to combat organized crime (something that can presently only happen under a state of emergency) and 65% back allowing the extradition of Ecuadorians under certain conditions (among them, guarantees of humane treatment and no use of the death penalty).

Both those proposals would require modifying Ecuador’s Constitution, which currently forbids the extradition of Ecuadorians under any circumstances. If the final results of the vote continue to show public backing for these measures, they will go into effect as soon as they are published in the official registry. It is unclear exactly when this would happen.

Two other security-related proposals – harsher prison sentences for some violent crimes and the establishment of a permanent armed forces presence in prisons to prevent weapons smuggling – also look on track to receive wide approval margins. These two proposals would not require changing the Constitution and will need the agreement of the National Assembly before they can go into effect.

The two measures that look likely to be rejected by the public are to allow workers to be contracted by the hour and to recognize international arbitrage to resolve investment disputes.

The early results will be seen as a win for Noboa, who swept into office last November as the youngest president in Ecuador’s history on the back of a promise to rein in the rampant crime that has transformed the once tranquil country into one plagued by drug cartel violence.

Since he came to office he has embarked on an uncompromising agenda in which he has declared “war” on more than 20 criminal gangs he has labeled as “terrorists,” declared a 90-day state of emergency, and authorized a highly controversial raid on the Mexican embassy in Quito to capture a fugitive Ecuadorian former vice president accused of corruption.

It was Ecuadorians’ growing discontent with the deteriorating security conditions that led Noboa’s predecessor Guillermo Lasso to call a snap election last year.

On Sunday, as an estimated 13 million Ecuadorians headed to the polls for the referendum, the country’s national prisons agency announced the director of the Manabi region prison had been killed in an attack.

Gang leader arrested

In another boost for Noboa, police said in a post on X that they had arrested notorious alleged gang leader Fabricio Colon Pico on Monday morning.

Alleged gang leader Colon Pico - Ecuador's Police
Alleged gang leader Colon Pico - Ecuador's Police

The arrest comes after several months of operations and investigative work by specialized units of the national police.

Colon Pico, the alleged leader of the Los Lobos gang, escaped from a prison in the central city of Riobamba in January, the city’s mayor said at the time.

Days earlier he had been captured after being publicly identified by Attorney General Diana Salazar as being part of a plan to attack her.

Thirty-eight other inmates had escaped along with Colon Pico, of which 12 have since been recaptured, Ecuador’s penitentiary service told CNN.

Colon Pico’s jailbreak came as another notorious gang leader – José Adolfo Macías, also known as “Fito,” of the rival gang Los Choneros – also escaped from prison, prompting a deployment of more than 3,000 members of the police and military to find him.

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