Ecuador respects human rights in criminal gang fight, Noboa says, but citizen rights come first

Jan 16, 2024 | 0 comments

President Daniel Noboa says Ecuador is adhering to United Nations human rights protocols in its police and military campaign against criminal gangs. “The commanders of our operations are aware of the rights of the suspects in this process, but my first concern is the rights of the citizens,” he said in an interview with Amsterdam-based ANP news agency Saturday. “Innocent people have been killed, injured, extorted, kidnapped and threatened by criminal organizations. Our goal is to end this reign of terror and restore peace to all Ecuadorians.”

President Daniel Noboa

He adds: “Of course, some rights have been suspended under the emergency declaration, but this too complies with human rights rules in such cases.”

In a series of interviews with ANP and three other international news agencies, Noboa explained why he invoked a national emergency, his Plan Fénix reforms for prisons and the judiciary system, and how he will fund social changes to keep young people from joining criminal gangs.

“We are involved in an unprecedented conflict that has been mostly ignored by previous governments,” he says. “We are beyond the time for band aides and compromises. We must restore law and order, which means fighting organized criminal organizations with international connections that are well-funded and heavily armed. At the same time, we must confront the economic and social crisis that affects all the population, especially the youth.”

Noboa explained that he wants to extend some provisions of the 60-day state of emergency, which ends March 9, particularly the one that allows the armed forces to assist police in fighting criminal organizations. This requires a change in the constitution that he will ask voters to approve in a March or April referendum. “When it was written, the constitution did not anticipate the state of organized violence we are experiencing today,” he says. “The military will not be involved in day-to-day law enforcement but will be available to assist police in situations we are confronting today.”

He adds: “It makes no sense to have thousands of well-trained soldiers sitting in barracks when the country is being attacked by narco trafficking cartels.”

As part of Plan Fenix, Noboa proposes to restructure the country’s prisons to avoid the riots of the past three years and eliminate, in some prisons, outright prisoner control. Central to Plan Fenix, is the construction of two new maximum-security prisons to house the most dangerous prisoners, including gang leaders.

“Today, the crime bosses can run their operations directly from their prison cells, ordering murderers, making deals to bribe judges and police, planning extortions, you name it. They have all the comforts of home, including drugs, liquor and prostitutes. With the new prisons, these people will be isolated, no internet, no phones, no contact with their members, no more creature comforts,” Noboa says. “The plan is to retake control of the prisons and, beyond that, of the judicial system that sentences criminals to prison.”

Asked how he plans to confront widespread corruption among judges, prison guards and police, he said a “purge” is in progress under the authority of the Attorney General’s office. “We have already made dozens of arrests and many more are coming, including of elected officials in the National Assembly and in local governments,” he said. “I have warned public officials that if they assist criminal organizations, they will be treated as criminals and will face long prison terms. I have proposed changes in the criminal code to accomplish this.”

Noboa says Ecuador is being supported in its crime fight by the international community. He said several countries have offered material and intelligence assistance, including the U.S, Israel and Brazil. “Because the U.S. is a consumer country of the narcotics shipped from Ecuador, they feel an obligation provide assistance, which we will accept.”

Noboa, who was born in the U.S. and holds joint Ecuadorian and U.S. citizenship, says he especially looks forward to U.S. help controlling illegal drug shipments from Ecuadorian ports in Guayaquil, Manta and Esmeraldas. “They have the knowledge and technology to address the problem.”

Isn’t there the possibility of abuse of power, a BBC interviewer asked Noboa. “Your popularity is above 80%, you have the army behind you, so how do you control the urge to extend government control over other aspects of society?” she asked. Noboa responded that all the measures he proposes, including tax increases to fund the gang war and reduce the budget deficit, will be put before voters and the National Assembly.

“If you are asking if I will become another [Nayib] Bukele, the answer is no,” Noboa said. “Although I respect much of what he has accomplished in El Salvador, we are not following his model. Ecuador has different traditions, and I will respect the political and cultural norms of the country.

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