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In a Country Awash in Violence, a Vote Will Test Its Leader’s Hard-Line Stance

Ecuadoreans will vote on Sunday in a referendum that could give their center-right president greater powers to combat drug-related gang violence and also gauge how he would fare in his bid for re-election next year.

President Daniel Noboa, the 36-year-old heir to a banana empire, took office in November after an election season focused on drug-related gang violence, which has surged over the past five years to levels not seen in decades.

In January, he declared an “internal armed conflict” and directed the military to “neutralize” the country’s roughly two dozen gangs, which the government labeled “terrorist organizations.” The drastic move allowed soldiers to patrol the streets and prisons, many of which have come under gang control.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Noboa took the extraordinary step of arresting an Ecuadorean politician facing a prison sentence who had taken refuge at the Mexican Embassy in Quito, in what experts called a violation of an international treaty on the sanctity of diplomatic posts. The move drew widespread condemnation across the region.

Mr. Noboa defended the embassy raid, saying the politician, a former vice president, was not entitled to protection because he was a convicted criminal.

Taken together, the deployment of the military and the forceful arrest of the former vice president were meant to show that Mr. Noboa is tough on crime and impunity, political analysts say. The vote on Sunday will gauge how strongly voters support his aggressive stance.

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