Ecuador’s new president sticks it to the cartels with bold early move

In a rapid move within the first 48 hours of his presidency, Ecuador’s newly inaugurated President Daniel Noboa has revoked controversial guidelines established by the country’s left a decade ago. The guidelines had eliminated penalties for individuals found carrying illegal drugs below certain amounts.

President Noboa’s decision aligns with a campaign promise to combat drug trafficking, addressing the escalating consequences of the illegal drug trade, particularly cocaine, which has led to heightened violence, including killings, kidnappings, robberies, and extortion, causing widespread concern among Ecuadorians.

Quito (Pichincha), November 23, 2023.- The Constitutional President of the Republic of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa Azin, together with the First Lady, Lavinia Valbonesi, arrived at the Carondelet Palace. Upon his arrival, President Noboa greeted the citizens who attended the Plaza de la Independencia. Photography: Eduardo Santillán-Presidency of the Republic.

A statement from President Noboa’s office argued that the previous guidelines had “encouraged micro-trafficking” and deemed them a “harmful element for Ecuadorian society.” In response to repealing the guidelines, Noboa has directed the ministries of interior and public health to develop coordinated programs for information, prevention, and control of narcotic and psychotropic substance consumption. Additionally, the ministries are tasked with providing treatment and rehabilitation to both habitual and problematic occasional users.

The guidelines, implemented in 2013 during Rafael Correa’s presidency, aimed to treat illegal drug use as a public health issue rather than sending users to prison. The specified quantities in the guidelines attempted to differentiate between drug consumption and drug trafficking.

Under the previous parameters, individuals could carry for personal use up to 10 grams of marijuana, 2 grams of cocaine paste, 1 gram of cocaine, 0.10 grams of heroin, and 0.04 grams of amphetamine. However, these guidelines faced criticism from Ecuador’s right and the country’s conservative society.

It remains unclear how President Noboa’s decision will be implemented, especially considering that his predecessor, President Guillermo Lasso, had announced a similar decision in January 2021 but did not follow through. Additionally, a ruling from Ecuador’s Constitutional Court emphasizes the need for judges to distinguish between consumers and traffickers when determining punishments, and without the guidelines, the distinction process is uncertain.

President Noboa, sworn in after winning a runoff election against Luisa Gonzalez, a mentee of former President Rafael Correa, will serve a term until May 2025, completing what remained of Lasso’s tenure. Lasso shortened his term by dissolving the National Assembly in May amid impeachment proceedings. Under Lasso’s administration, violent deaths in Ecuador rose significantly, reaching a record 4,600 in 2022, doubling the number from the previous year. The surge in violence is linked to the trafficking of cocaine from neighboring Colombia and Peru, with Mexican, Colombian, and Balkan cartels establishing a presence in Ecuador, often collaborating with local criminal gangs.

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