To the Rescue

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Editor’s Note:

Dear Readers,

This holiday week we’re reprising some of our lead stories of the past year, ones that illustrate ongoing trends in their respective regions. DailyChatter reports on more than 150 countries every year in every region of the world, and we feel many of these stories deserve another look.

Today we take you to South and Central America, where organized crime has had an outsized and devastating impact on the societies of Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, and others over the past years, as Spanish newspaper El País noted.

On behalf of the DailyChatter team, we wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season.

Ecuador is overly dependent on oil and, therefore, the dramatic economic swings that often occur in energy commodities. Violence has skyrocketed as the South American country has become a center of the cocaine trade. Corruption is endemic.

A fresh face emerged to tackle these challenges, however, after 35-year-old Daniel Noboa won Ecuador’s presidential election in the second round of voting in October, CNN reported.

Noboa has taken office amid extraordinary instability. Lame-duck President Guillermo Lasso triggered the presidential election after he dissolved the Ecuadorian legislature to avoid impeachment. Anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was then assassinated days before the first round of voting in August.

Now Noboa will serve out the remaining 18 months of Lasso’s term, meaning he will need to move quickly to convince voters that he should remain their leader. He will in a sense be running an election campaign as soon as he takes office, noted the North American Congress on Latin America.

“He must deal with the insecurity,” Ecuadorian political scientist Santiago Basabe told Al Jazeera. “To some extent, he should promote public health, support the most impoverished sectors, and grant opportunities for higher education. Other than that, I don’t think he can do much more in this given time.”

Still, the new president acted fast to fulfill a campaign pledge; within 48 hours of taking office in November, he repealed controversial guidelines established by the country’s left a decade ago that had eliminated penalties for people found carrying illegal drugs under certain amounts, the Associated Press reported.

A center-right businessman and banana fortune heir – his father unsuccessfully ran for president five times – Noboa has also pledged to increase spending on social programs, crack down on crime, and solicit foreign investors to reinvigorate the economy, wrote

Noboa arguably has the wind at his back. He defeated left-wing candidate Luisa González, an ally of former president Rafael Correa, because voters want bold ideas and change, not incumbents and business as usual, the Economist wrote. Correa was sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges but has escaped justice by living in exile in Belgium. Ecuadoran authorities are now seeking his extradition.

To reduce crime, Noboa will need to uproot networks of foreign and local cocaine traffickers who ship their product out of the country’s Pacific Ocean ports, explained the Council on Foreign Relations. That illegal commerce has fueled a spike in homicides to 40 per 100,000 people, one of the worst in the Western Hemisphere. More Ecuadorians have been migrating northwards to the US and elsewhere to escape that violence, too.

Accordingly, he plans to “militarize” the country’s ports and borders, according to teleSUR.

More violence could be the result in the short term. But law-abiding Ecuadorans might welcome it as long as they are not on the receiving end.

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