Ecuador’s leader applauds the apparent approval of extradition and measures against gangs

An early exit poll on Sunday showed overwhelming support from Ecuadorian voters for the extradition of mafia bosses to US prisons and other tough measures against gangs. President Daniel Noboa welcomed the outcome as it “gives him more tools to fight crime.”

New bloodshed colored the day when attackers shot dead a prison guard on the coast of Ecuador.

The “yes” vote in favor of extradition received 72 percent support, while “no” received 25 percent of the vote, according to the company Infinity Estrategas, which published the exit poll results on social network X.

“We defended the country, now we will have more tools to fight crime and restore peace to Ecuadorian families,” Noboa said after the exit poll was released.

If Ecuador’s constitution is amended to allow extradition, the country would follow in the footsteps of Colombia and Mexico, which have sent dozens of high-profile crime bosses to face trial in the United States.

Damian Parrales, head of El Rodero prison in the coastal state of Manabi, “was the victim of an attack that unfortunately cost him his life,” the national prisons authority said in a statement.

Ecuadorian prisons have become nerve centers for organized crime groups and a bloody battlefield that has claimed the lives of more than 460 prisoners in three years.

Parrales, who had taken up his prison post just five days ago, was shot while having lunch with his family in the town of Jipijapa, local media reported.

Once peaceful Ecuador is grappling with a shocking increase in violence, which has flared up due to a surge in narcotics trafficking that has left two mayors dead this week.

Nearly 13.6 million of the country’s 17.7 million residents were eligible to cast a “Yes” or “No” on eleven referendum questions on the ballot.

Noboa declared a state of “internal armed conflict” in January, blaming about 20 criminal groups for a wave of violence sparked by the jailbreak of a major drug lord who was still on the run.

Gangsters kidnapped dozens of people, including police and prison guards, and opened fire in a TV studio during a live broadcast, part of a days-long wave of violence that left about 20 dead.

Despite the deployment of soldiers to combat gangs, violence continues. Two mayors have been murdered in the past week, that’s five in a year and three in less than a month.

At least a dozen politicians have been killed in Ecuador since January last year, including presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, who was shot after a campaign event last August.

In Sunday’s vote, Noboa sought popular support for his plans to crack down even harder on those responsible for such acts.

Citizens were asked to approve an expansion of the powers of the military and police, which would significantly strengthen gun control and impose harsher penalties for “terrorism” and drug trafficking.

Noboa also proposes to amend the constitution to allow Ecuadorians wanted abroad for crimes related to organized crime to be extradited.

– Feeling insecure –

Last year, the country’s murder rate rose to a record 43 per 100,000 residents – up from just six in 2018, according to official data.

In a release Friday, polling firm Gallup said no other region in the world, excluding active war zones, felt less safe for residents in 2023 than Ecuador’s Guayas province.

The vote comes the same week that Ecuadorians suffered power outages lasting up to 13 hours as the drought left key hydroelectric reservoirs nearly empty.

The government ordered workers to stay home for two days in an effort to conserve scarce energy resources.

Noboa has placed some of the blame on “sabotage”, without naming anyone in particular.