Ecuador Has a Low Crime Rate But the Conservative Presidential Candidate Wants to Legalize Guns

Division on whether private gun ownership is the solution to bringing down crime rates is dominating the presidential election campaigns a month before voters head to the polls.
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QUITO, Ecuador - Personal gun ownership is at the center of Ecuador’s approaching presidential elections as the official campaign season kicks off ahead of the vote in early February. 

Personal gun ownership has been proposed as a solution to quell a perceived rise in crime around the country by a center-right political alliance headed by presidential candidate and banker Guillermo Lasso (the alliance is known as CREO-PSC, its Spanish acronym, and is between the Creating Opportunities and Social Christian Party.)

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Several violent robberies have caused widespread fear across Ecuador in recent months. In a case in November, two armed assailants held up a pizzeria and bakery in the north of the capital Quito using a pistol and knife. The pair, dubbed “the couple of horror” by the media, was later apprehended on their way to the Colombian border, a day after presidential candidate Lasso made public comments about the need for self-defense.

“If you follow the elections in Ecuador, you realize that the majority of electoral processes coincide with an effective campaign that increases citizen’s perception of crime,” said Carla Álvarez, an expert on security, drugs, and weapons at the National Institute of Higher Studies of Ecuador, a local university.

Compared to other nations in the region, Ecuador has a relatively low crime rate. For the past decade, violent crime has fallen dramatically, but there was an uptick in 2020. The number of reported robberies have also increased since lockdown measures were relaxed back in May, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior. For Álvarez, the notion of using guns to curb violence and crime would be like pouring gasoline on fire.

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“Violence is now increasing in a context in which ownership of guns is not allowed, in which the importation of guns is not allowed. The obvious question is, what will happen if we legalize the ownership of guns?” 

The proposal of legalizing guns is viewed by experts as a political and populist maneuver to generate fear and win more votes by CREO-PSC. Lasso is up against progessive economist Andrés Arauz for the Union for Hope party, a political group under the political umbrella of former President Rafael Correa. Yaku Pérez, for the Indigenous party Pachakutik, and banana businessman Álvaro Noboa, whose participation is still pending, under the political movement Social Justice, will also be contenders in February’s election. 

Arauz served as director of Ecuador’s Central Bank and minister of knowledge and human talent under Correa, and he has promised a return to that president’s policies with the slogan of being “the presidential ticket of hope.” Correa currently lives in Belgium and was sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges in April. Arauz has called it a “political persecution” and tried to enlist Correa as his running mate before the proposal was rejected by the National Electoral Council, or CNE.

Pérez is known for his environmental activism and is attractive to social organizations and the Ecuadorian left, who felt abandoned during Correa’s presidency.

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In addition to Lasso on the center-right, businessman Noboa is looking to run as a presidential candidate for the sixth time. A recent poll found him leading in second place suggesting his participation could be a challenge to the CREO-PSC alliance.

Noboa’s presidential aspirations are now in the hands of Ecuador’s Constitutional Court after the CNE failed to follow an electoral court’s December 9 decision to ratify his candidacy. Supporters of Noboa clashed with police outside the electoral building in Quito on December 14 after learning the news their candidate had not been confirmed.

The delays to confirm participants just days before the official campaign sparked international condemnation.

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter of “profound concern” urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “insist on free, fair and inclusive elections” in Ecuador. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also chimed in via a letter addressed to Ecuador’s foreign minister on December 15, requesting Ecuador’s government provide information for not granting Noboa his candidacy, according to local newspaper El Universo.

The elections come at a pivotal time for Ecuador. Beyond a perceived surge in violent crime, the country’s economy was ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, and unemployment dropped to 13 percent between May and June. That has improved since, but the informal economy is still the main source of income for many. Just over 1.8 million Ecuadorians are working as “underemployed,” which is classified as earning less than the monthly minimum salary of $400 and/or less than 40 hours a week, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses.

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In February, voters will decide whether the country will continue on its current path of deregulatory policies set by President Lenín Moreno, or a return to policies seen under Correa.

Moreno was elected on a promise to improve social equality via policies introduced under Correa, but quickly shifted his strategy by negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and implementing mass public sector layoffs and deregulation. The country reached a boiling point in October 2019 when a popular Indigenous-led uprising challenged Moreno’s presidential decree to slash decades old fuel subsidies backed by the IMF.

As a result, Moreno’s approval rating has plummeted significantly during his tenure, reaching a low of nine percent. His PAIS Alliance party will compete in the elections, but the candidate has only maintained one percent of votes in the polls.

Three time presidential candidate Lasso will have the task of distancing himself from Moreno’s government. When asked about what his administration would do regarding the promises made in the most recent IMF agreement in September, he assured it was a decision made by the current government, but not his.

To win in the first round, a candidate must obtain 40 percent of the vote while maintaining a 10 percent advantage over the second place candidate. If neither are secured, a runoff election of the top two candidates is held within 45 days.