Ecuador beset by crime, economic woes ahead of presidential vote

Voters express scepticism as candidates promise to revitalise sluggish economy and tackle rising insecurity.

Ecuadoreans cast their votes in a constitutional referendum and local elections, in Latacunga
Ecuadorians will head to the polls for snap elections on August 20 [File: Karen Toro/Reuters]

People in Ecuador have expressed pessimism ahead of upcoming presidential elections, as the South American nation struggles with economic turmoil and increasing crime and insecurity.

The slew of candidates vying for the presidency on August 20 have promised to revitalise the Ecuadorian economy, which was battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and tackle a surge in violence.

But a lack of employment opportunities and rising insecurity – linked in part to increased activity among criminal groups – have pushed a growing number of people to leave Ecuador and seek opportunities elsewhere.

“We’re really tired of officials’ false promises, the hopes are nil,” Jefferson Goyburo, a 48-year-old taxi driver in the port city of Guayaquil, whose son Luis, 21, left for Spain, told the Reuters news agency.

“Sometimes I want to cry because there’s no work, nor any security, for anyone in this country.”

Outgoing President Guillermo Lasso, a banker who won a surprise election victory in 2021, called early elections in May to avoid his potential removal from office by the legislature.

Lasso had pledged to create two million jobs, but his government says 500,000 new jobs were created during his two-year administration.

The top candidates for the August elections have offered a variety of solutions for the country’s economic problems without committing to specific jobs targets.

Leading candidate Luisa Gonzalez has pledged to extend tax benefits to companies that hire young people, while Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez – who finished third in the 2021 vote – has said he will bring greater regulation to digital platforms.

Conservative candidates Otto Sonnenholzner and Jan Topic have said that they would support entrepreneurship initiatives and public works projects, respectively.

Voters have offered few signs that they believe any of the candidates will be able to improve things, however.

Some are voting with their feet, as about 822,000 Ecuadorians between the ages of 18 and 45 had left the country through June of this year, according to the government. About 1.4 million people left Ecuador during all of last year.

Meanwhile, a Tuesday poll by Ecuadorian polling firm Click Report showed Gonzalez, who is backed by former President Rafael Correa, holding 29.3 percent support. Perez held 14.4 percent while Sonnenholzner and Topic had 12.4 and 9.6 percent, respectively.

But more than 16.8 percent of potential voters said they would cast a ballot for no one.

None of the candidates, who must get more than 50 percent of valid votes or more than 40 percent if they are 10 points ahead of their nearest rival to win in a first round, have included migration policies in their campaigning.

Rising insecurity

A surge in violence, particularly in Ecuador’s prison system, is also high among voters’ concerns.

In late July, the government declared a state of emergency after dozens of people were killed in prison riots in Guayaquil. Much of the prison violence in Ecuador over the past few years has been linked to groups vying for control of drug trafficking routes, authorities have said.

“These elections are unusual due to the backdrop of intense anxiety stemming from organised crime,” said Santiago Cahuasqui, a political scientist at the International SEK University.

Highlighting the insecurity in the country, around 30 candidates, including six of the eight presidential candidates, are under police protection. The assassination of Agustin Intriago, mayor of the city of Manta in Ecuador’s Pacific coast province of Manabi, last month further raised tensions.

As a result, security has been a main focus of all the presidential contenders’ campaigns.

Their varied proposals include building a maximum security prison in the Amazon, deploying signal jammers in prisons, better equipping police and soldiers, and imposing harsher penalties on criminals.

“This wave of violence provides the ideal breeding ground for security-oriented populism. Most candidates are endorsing a hardline strategy as the sole solution,” said security expert Carla Alvarez.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies