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2 candidates vie for Ecuador presidency in face of historic violence and migration

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Ask voters in Ecuador their biggest concern as they head into presidential elections this weekend and most will say crime. International drug traffickers working with local gangs have turned Ecuador into a major transportation hub for South American cocaine heading to Europe and the U.S. Ecuadorians, increasingly caught in the cartel's crossfire, say they are desperate for solutions. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Two candidates vie for Ecuador's top spot Sunday. Both say they have a plan to combat crime and the staggering homicide rate, now double over recent years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUISA GONZALEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

(CHEERING)

KAHN: Here's Luisa Gonzalez, a leftist lawmaker, single mother and possibly Ecuador's first elected female president. Wearing a bulletproof vest and surrounded by guards with assault weapons, she rallies the crowd at her campaign closer in the pacific port city of Guayaquil.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GONZALEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Criticizing past governments, Gonzalez says they've plunged us into violence and poverty. The 45-year-old protege of former leftist president Rafael Correa says she'll invest in the country's security forces, buy better equipment and purge the police of criminal elements. Her opponent, Daniel Noboa, heir to his father's banana conglomerate, says he'll strengthen the police too and fortify Ecuador's borders and ports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: Noboa, just 35, also wears a bulletproof vest on the campaign trail and is surrounded by heavily armed guards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL NOBOA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: At this campaign rally in a tough neighborhood in Guayaquil, Noboa spent less than 2 minutes on stage, barely mentioning the daily violence many experience. Noboa made a surprisingly second-place finish in the first round of elections last August after the contest's most vocal anti-corruption candidate was assassinated. Several other officials have been killed since. And just last weekend, seven suspects in the candidate's murder were found dead in two different Ecuadorian prisons.

MARITZA PINTIEY: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Maritza Pintiey came to a campaign stop, but the candidate never showed up. Supporters put a life-sized cardboard cutout of him on stage as they raffled off appliances.

PINTIEY: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: We can't leave our houses, can't go anywhere. Dead bodies are on every corner, she says. She's not sure who she'll vote for. While polls show Noboa leading, nearly a fifth of voters say they are still undecided.

INGRID RIOS: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Political analyst Ingrid Rios of Guayaquil University says the candidates' security plans are basic.

RIOS: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: There's no confidence left in the government, she says. It's shown it is incapable of doing anything. In fact, the current president, facing impeachment proceedings, took the rare step of dissolving Congress and resigning, triggering the early elections. The winner on Sunday will have less than two years in office.

Agusto Areaga is 65 and is recently unemployed. He came to hear the leftist candidate who he'll probably vote for, but he says he's not convinced. His nephew, a local security guard, was just killed last weekend by a robber.

AGUSTO AREAGA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: They always promise everything, but in the end, when it comes down to it, they forget it all, he says. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Guayaquil, Ecuador. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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