June 16, 2024

Ecuadoran president urges international help to stop drug problem

Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa appealed to Europe  Thursday for help tackling his country’s crippling drug problem “at its source.”

In an interview with AFP in Paris, Noboa said the challenge was a global one, with drugs flowing from South America to Europe and the United States, giving rise to violence everywhere.

Nestled between the world’s largest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, once-peaceful Ecuador has been grappling with a shocking rise in violence after gangs turned it into a logistics center for drug shipments.

Noboa also defended his country’s raid on the Mexican embassy in Quito in April to arrest graft-accused former vice president Jorge Glas — a move that sparked an international outcry.

Here is Noboa in his own words:

Q: Are the United States and Europe doing enough to combat drug trafficking? 

A: “I would like them to do more. There is a global problem. It’s not just one country. It’s not just Ecuador, it’s not just Colombia, it’s not just Peru. 

“The region is at this moment immersed in drug trafficking and violence, and some of that violence is already being seen in Europe,” he said — as in France, where gunmen killed two prison officers this week to free a convict linked to gangland killings.

“There should be a joint effort, because if you manage to stop the problem at its source, I believe many problems can be solved. It is not only a defense or security solution, it is also a solution to social issues. 

“Help isn’t just giving us a rifle or giving us a gun. It is helping us with scholarships for young people of 18 who today do not have the opportunity to study.

“It is investing in developing areas in Ecuador so that there is employment… and decent housing programs, because it generates employment in construction and improves the lives of families.  

“All these measures help the war against narcoterrorism because if an 18-year-old in Ecuador who graduates from school and has a sick mother, has younger siblings and does not have an income or ability to study, what does he end up doing? He often ends up in the hands of organized crime.”

P: What can be done in terms of security?

A: “We have asked the United States to help us with control of the northern border, with Colombia, also to the southern border towards Peru. 

“There are people who come to Ecuador on flights and go on foot to the north, cross the border with Colombia, from there to Darien (the jungle between Colombia and Panama) and end up in Mexico. 

“The drug route is also becoming a route for human trafficking, violence, immigration.”

Q: Has your anti-crime policy produced the desired effect?

A: “It needs to be reinforced. We have reduced the number of deaths of innocent people… But it is a constant war, there are 22 highly armed groups, totaling 40,000 people. This is more than our army of 36,000 people.” 

“That’s the magnitude of the problem. This is not a gang problem… this is a transnational problem, with a lot of money” involved.

Q: Will Ecuador’s diplomatic spat with Mexico over the Glas raid affect joint efforts to fight Mexican cartels operating in your country?

A: “We want to have a fluid dialogue with Mexico, and a dialogue of peace without intervention on either side. If there are convicted criminals, we will not allow justice to be mocked,” Noboa said in reference to Glas, who had already served time for corruption and was facing new graft charges when he was granted asylum at the embassy.

Mexico broke diplomatic ties with Ecuador over the raid.

“I think it would be better if we had diplomatic relations with Mexico for the fight against drug trafficking, since one of the groups operating in Ecuador are Mexican cartels,” said the president.

“We are willing to talk about many things, in fact, we have been promoting a free trade agreement with Mexico for a long time. 

“We have wanted to strengthen relations with Mexico, but it does not seem to me personally or to the government that the only condition and the only way to re-establish a relationship with Mexico is by giving them a criminal.”

Q: How do you react to international criticism that the raid breached diplomatic territory?

A: “I think it will end up being clarified by the court,” Noboa said of a case before the International Court of Justice, where Ecuador has argued the raid was necessitated by “exceptional” circumstances.

“We trust that we will be shown to have been right. The moment a criminal (is granted) asylum, the matter begins to look like intervention in national affairs, especially national justice, and we do not agree.”

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