Ecuador presidential rivals agree tough stance on crime, differ on economy

Ecuadorean presidential candidate Luisa Gonzalez, wearing a bulletproof vest, speaks during a press meet after a televised debate with Ecuadorean presidential candidate Daniel Noboa ahead of an October run-off, in Quito, Ecuador October 1, 2023. REUTERS/Karen Toro

QUITO (Reuters) - Candidates vying for Ecuador's presidency agreed in a debate on Sunday on the need to beef up security in the Andean country but differed on how to improve the economy.

Leftist Luisa Gonzalez, a lawyer and protege of former president Rafael Correa and young businessman Daniel Noboa will compete in a run-off vote on Oct. 15. Gonzalez won the first round with almost 34% of the votes while Noboa took a surprise second place.

Outgoing President Guillermo Lasso called early elections in May when he dissolved the legislature to avoid an impeachment process. Whoever wins will only hold the presidency until 2025, when regularly scheduled elections will resume.

Both candidates promised in Sunday's debate to get tough on organized crime gangs, to strengthen the security forces and to seek international help to tackle spiraling insecurity.

"I am going to regain control of the country that has been taken from us," Gonzalez said.

Noboa, who led Gonzalez in polls last month, plans to classify gangs as "narco-terrorists" and proposed floating prisons at sea for the most dangerous inmates.

The candidates disagreed, however, on where to focus investment to spur Ecuador's ailing economy, which is forecast to grow 1.5% this year and 0.8% in 2024.

Gonzalez pledged to boost oil production and reiterated plans to inject $2.5 billion of international reserves into the economy. He also said he would eliminate certain tax benefits.

Noboa proposed benefits for companies that hire young people and said he will promote private investment in electricity transmission and oil refining operations.

However, he also clarified that a previous proposal to use $1.5 billion of international reserves was for worst-case scenarios only.

"Using the reserves was plan Z," he said. "If we see that people are facing serious problems, with people affected by the El Nino weather phenomenon, we would use that sum as a last resort."

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Oliver Griffin)

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