Ecuador will ask its citizens to vote in a 2023 consultation to reform its justice system, President Guillermo Lasso said on Tuesday, amid accusations that decisions by judges are holding back efforts to fight crime.
Violence and crime, including within the prison system, soared in Ecuador late last year. The government has blamed the violence on drug gangs who use the country as a transit point for narcotics headed to the United States and Europe.
According to statistics, the crime surge is occurring mostly in the country’s coastal cities while crime in the mountain cities of Quito and Cuenca has dropped.
“I don’t think anyone is happy with justice in Ecuador,” Lasso said in a interview broadcast on his social media channels. “We are working on the issue of a popular consultation and we could make it coincide with regional elections in 2023.”
Conservative Lasso had declared a state of emergency, which ended in mid-December, and deployed hundreds of soldiers in violent areas, though citizens and analysts say boots on the ground fail to confront the poverty and poor policing underlying the violence.
Lasso reiterated his criticism of decisions and sentencing by judges which allow immediate freedom for detainees. “It impacts the insecurity that comes from all this illegal drug trafficking activity,” he said. “We are too soft of crime.”
The consultation would ask voters to determine clear functions for the entities that make up the judicial system, Lasso said, and ask about citizen safety efforts. “We need strong institutional justice to promote foreign investment in Ecuador,” Lasso said. “So we are seen as a country which is absolutely serious about administering justice with total impartiality.”
In addition to justice reform, Lasso said the referendum is also likely to include questions that would enact major labor reforms and lead to the abolution of the Council of Citizen Participation.
Lasso’s proposal comes a week after the United States embassy in Quito canceled U.S. visas for several judges and other judicial personnel.
The embassy said in a statement at the time it would continue to use its authority to advance efforts in anti-corruption and the fight against organized crime.