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Ecuador: from Darwin to drug trafficking

In the election Sunday, Ecuadorans will vote in a referendum to halt oil drilling in an Amazon reserve.

Here are five things to know about Ecuador, which will hold snap elections on Sunday.

The campaign has been marked by the murder of a top candidate and pledges to tackle the lawlessness that has engulfed the once peaceful South American nation.

New narcotrafficking hub

In the last few years, Ecuador has become a key player in the regional cocaine trade as drug trafficking from Colombia and Peru expands into the Andean country, taking advantage of lax security in ports on its Pacific coast.

The drug trade has spurred a wave of horrific violence, making security the top concern of voters.

ALSO READ: Ecuadoran woman wakes up inside coffin at her own wake [VIDEO]

Ecuador’s murder rate since 2018 has quadrupled, kidnappings are rife, and a string of clashes between rival drug gangs has claimed at least 430 lives in Ecuadoran prisons since 2021, leaving a trail of dismembered and burned bodies.

Indigenous power

Ecuador’s more than one million Indigenous people have developed powerful representation that played a key role in the downfall of three presidents between 1997 and 2005.

In June 2022, the country was paralysed by 18 days of Indigenous protests over the high cost of living and fuel prices in which six people died.

ALSO READ: A primal forest encircled by Ecuador port faces ruination

Three decades earlier, an Indigenous uprising forced the government to surrender more than two million hectares of land to Amazonian and Andean tribal groups.

But while the constitution recognises their ownership of the land, the state maintains control over everything under the soil.

In the election Sunday, Ecuadorans will vote in a referendum to halt oil drilling in an Amazon reserve.

Assange protector

For seven years, the Ecuadoran embassy in London was at the center of the Julian Assange saga, offering asylum to the WikiLeaks founder pursued by the US for divulging military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But in 2019 Ecuador’s government — which shifted right after distancing itself from former Socialist president Rafael Correa — decided it had had enough of Assange and booted him out of the mission, accusing him of meddling in the politics of other states and being unhygienic, among other complaints.

ALSO READ: Ecuador labels criminal gangs as terrorists

The Australian has since been in a high-security prison east of London, where he is fighting Britain’s plans to extradite him to the United States.

Oil, bananas and prawns

One of the many ways drugs traffickers are getting their product out of the country is by smuggling it in one of Ecuador’s top exports: bananas.

The fruit is the country’s third top export after oil — — some $13 billion per year — and shrimp, with Ecuador in 2020 overtaking India as the world’s top exporter of the crustaceans.

Galapagos Islands

Ecuador is home to the famous Galapagos Islands, a marine-rich archipelago made up of 234 islands, inlets and rocks, with flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world.

Observing its wonders in the 19th century, British scientist Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution after studying finches and mockingbirds.

ALSO READ: At least 16 dead in Ecuador landslide

The impact of human activity through climate change and mass tourism threatens the unique ecosystems on the islands, listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

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