Ecuador should hold violent convicts on prison boats, says presidential hopeful Noboa

By Yury Garcia

GUAYAQUIL (Reuters) - Ecuador should strengthen controls at its borders and ports to fight drug trafficking and isolate its most violent criminals on prison boats, presidential candidate Daniel Noboa said on Tuesday.

Noboa, son of prominent banana businessman and perennial presidential hopeful Alvaro Noboa, was a surprise second-place finisher in the weekend first round of Ecuador's presidential election, winning 23.5% of the vote.

He will face Luisa Gonzalez, a protege of former President Rafael Correa who has promised to revive his social programs and won 33.5%, in an Oct. 15 second round.

The issue of law and order has taken center stage in Ecuador's election after the assassination of an anti-corruption candidate. Security has deteriorated in much of South America, with the growing reach of cocaine-trafficking gangs destabilizing swathes of the continent.

"We should reinforce the border, have a military presence at the borders, a military presence at the container ports because that's where the drugs leave from," Noboa told reporters in Guayaquil.

Prison boats could take 300 to 400 each of the country's most violent criminals some 80 miles (130 km) out to sea, he said. The cost would be $8 million a year per boat, he said.

"It is important to totally isolate the violent criminals, who from prison generate terror and plan more crime," Noboa said.

"Currently criminals hold parties in the prisons," he told Reuters after the event. "It's absurd."

Ecuador's jails are notoriously violent. A series of deadly riots has been blamed by authorities on infighting among criminal groups for control inside prisons and for drug trafficking routes on the outside.

Asked if he fears for his family's safety, Noboa said all Ecuadoreans feel unsafe.

"We must return that feeling of safety to citizens, not just me as a candidate, as a businessman, but so every Ecuadorean feels the peace of being able to start a business, to go for a walk at night, without being killed," he said.

Law-and-order candidate Jan Topic, who won 14.6%, will back his candidacy, Noboa added.

Correa's party won about 40% of seats in the national assembly in Sunday's vote and Noboa told Reuters he would seek consensus to enact his policies.

"We know how to do it," he said of his own time as a lawmaker. "The doors are open for dialogue."


Noboa also says he wants to create jobs and attract foreign investment. If elected he would invest in infrastructure and pass a tax reform to incentivize employment, he said.

Now is not the time to shore up international reserves, he said, adding that the country could use between $1 billion and $1.2 billion of the funds to fight the El Nino weather phenomenon, which can bring drought.

If elected, he will balance social needs with foreign debt obligations, Noboa said. Ecuador has nearly $16 billion in debt in foreign bonds, with the next payment above $1 billion not due until 2030.

"We must comply with the obligations, but my first obligation is with the Ecuadorean people...I need to work with both issues."

Despite warnings from state oil company Petroecuador that a vote to stop oil development in a block in the Yasuni reserve will cost some $13.8 billion over the next two decades, Noboa said he has other figures that showed the hit would not be so severe.

"At the same time the Yasuni reserve gives us a good image to the world, being able to talk about one of the most biodiverse places on the planet," he said.

(Reporting by Yury Garcia in Guayaquil, additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia and Julia Symmes Cobb in Quito, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)