[News] News From Other Places!

It's news you can use from places with different views! (Don't misuse or abuse you yahoos.)

EDIT: Whoop! This was the same as the Channel 4 story I posted on the last page.

Foreigners are being comically terrible tourists in Japan.

Last week, the town of Fujikawaguchiko in Yamanashi Prefecture installed a giant black screen to block a view of Mt Fuji that had become inundated with tourists.

The site had become famous on social media as a photo spot where you could capture two very Japanese icons — Mt Fuji and a Lawson convenience store — in a dramatic way that makes it look like the store is wearing the volcano on its roof like a hat. However, the quiet residential area was never designed to be a tourist site, and problems arose when visitors gathered in large numbers to take photos from outside the dental clinic across the road, causing problems for the business and the locals, with increasing cases of tourists smoking, littering, and jaywalking.

The local municipality responded to complaints from residents by installing a giant, 20-metre (65.6-foot) long, 2.5-metre high blackout screen outside the dental clinic to block the sought-after view. Mayor Hideyuki Watanabe said they made the difficult decision to install the screen for the safety of tourists and residents, and it was hoped that it would deter tourists from visiting. However, less than a week after it was installed, around 10 small holes have been discovered in the screen, each one at eye-level height and measuring around one-centimetre (0.4 inches) in diameter; just large enough to fit a smartphone camera lens.

(Video at the link.)

Also, in unrelated Japan news -

The language of opportunity: Bilingual education is on the rise in Japan

Earlier this month, the education ministry gave itself a big high-five after the results of a survey showed the English proficiency of Japan’s students is improving. The proportion of third-year junior and senior high school students with Grade 3 and Grade Pre-2 or higher on Eiken proficiency tests, respectively, both rose past the 50% mark. The government wants that number to pass 60% by fiscal 2027.
English education in Japan does not have a reputation for excellence. The country currently ranks 87th out of 113 non-English speaking countries, below Malaysia, South Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia and China. Proficiency in foreign languages more generally is blatantly deficient: Just 13% of Japanese speak multiple languages, compared to 40% of Thai and French, 57% of Australians, and more than 75% of people from countries like Switzerland, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden.

Despite that, bilingual education is booming here. A variety of schools pledging to nurture the nation’s children up into international citizens, fluent in Japanese and English alike, are opening new branches across the country.

Aoba-Japan Bilingual Preschool, for example, opened a new campus in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward last year, hot on the heels of the newly opened Freely Akasaka English school in 2021; and over in Nagoya, the Yaruki Switch Group launched two bilingual preschools in 2022 and 2024, respectively.

Education critic Manabu Murata estimates that around 200 new English schools have opened in the past five years, bringing the number of English preschools alone to more than 800.

“We’re seeing a strong demand from areas throughout Japan, so we are actively opening new schools,” says Jakub Druszkiewicz, an instructor at Kids Duo International, one of Yaruki Switch Group’s schools.

English has long been trendy in Japan, but the current generation of parents view a bilingual education as indispensable for their children’s future success, according to Norihiko Inoue, who manages the Asian market at English education company Education First.

“More foreign international schools are coming into Japan,” he says, “but there’s such a long queue to get into international schools, and many Japanese students are being rejected.”

With spiking demand from Japanese and non-Japanese parents here, options for bilingual schools are more present than ever. But an inflexible educational system and a growing economic and cultural divide threaten access to these skills, which have the potential to transform Japanese society in the decades to come.

I was quite surprised to discover in this article that the number of foreign nationals living in Japan has jumped to 2.5% of the population, up from 1.3% in 2013.

Prederick wrote:

I was quite surprised to discover in this article that the number of foreign nationals living in Japan has jumped to 2.5% of the population


Yay me!

... I had yakisoba for brunch a few weeks ago.

That qualifies, you're an expat now.

Wait until I tell my sister and her wife that Ventura counts as being out of the United States!

Prederick wrote:

Considering that it's shot through with corruption and graft, I hope so.

Problematically, however, the other options aren't great either.

Interesting results so far, although only half the votes have been counted.

Up to date election map for the curious:

So South Africa in on course for a coalition government although I'm not sure what the maths is.

The three big opposition parties will never form a bloc. Neither of them seems likely to get enough votes from smaller parties and independents to form a majority

So we may end up with a minority government of (in order of likelihood) the ANC alone, a DA led coalition, an MK led coalition or an EFF led coalition.

Most likely in my opinion though, since the MK is made up of 'the ANC but likes more corruption' my prediction is an ANC/MK majority government.

My own province, Kwazulu Natal, is heading to an MK win although not a majority.

I’m hoping for a ANC/DA coalition, but don’t think it’ll happen.

My province (North-West)is still happy to keep Corruption Inc in power (ANC)

Mexico’s drug cartels and gangs appear to be playing a wider role in Sunday’s elections than before

COTIJA, Mexico (AP) — Mexico’s drug cartels and gangs appear to be playing a wider role than before in Sunday’s elections that will determine the presidency, nine governorships and about 19,000 mayorships and other local posts.

The country’s powerful drug cartels have long staged targeted assassinations of mayoral and other local candidates who threaten their control. Gangs in Mexico depend on controlling local police chiefs, and taking a share of municipal budgets; national politics appear to interest them less.

But in the runup to Sunday’s vote, gangs have increasingly taken to spraying whole campaign rallies with gunfire, burning ballots or preventing the setting up of polling stations, and even putting up banners seeking to influence voters.

Security analyst David Saucedo says it’s likely some drug gangs will try to force voters to cast ballots for their favored candidates.

“It it is reasonable to assume that the cartels will mobilize their support bases during Sunday’s elections,” Saucedo said. “They have loyal voters who they have won over through the distribution of food packages, cash, medicine and infrastructure projects. They will use them to support narco-candidates.”

In some places, it appears the gangs are encouraging people to vote while discouraging voting in areas controlled by their rivals.

On Friday, electoral authorities reported that assailants burned a house where ballots were being stored ahead of Sunday in the violence-wracked town of Chicomuselo, in the southern state of Chiapas. While they did not say who was behind the attack, the town is completely dominated by two warring drug cartels, Jalisco and Sinaloa.

On May 14, gunmen apparently linked to a cartel shot and killed 11 people in a single day in Chicomuselo. On May 17, five people were killed along with a mayoral candidate when gunmen opened fire on a crowd in the town of La Concordia, Chiapas, about 45 miles (75 kilometers) east of Chicomuselo.

Targeted assassinations of local candidates continued. On Wednesday, dramatic video images showed a mayoral candidate in the southern state of Guerrero being shot in the head at point-blank rage with a pistol. A total of 31 candidates, almost all running for mayorships, have been killed this year.

But mass attacks on campaign rallies, once exceedingly rare in Mexico, are becoming common, and have killed many more supporters than candidates this year. The effect is intimidating.

On Wednesday, the last official day of campaigning, unidentified gunmen opened fire a couple of blocks away from a mayoral candidate’s final campaign rally in the western state of Michoacan, sending hundreds of people scrambling for safety.

“It seemed like a normal evening, like the campaign closers of other candidates,” said Angélica Chávez, a homemaker who was at the rally in Cotija. “Then there were gunshots, several rounds of gunfire very close. And then people started running and diving to the ground, crouching.”

Chávez was hurt in the stampede and had to take refuge in a local church.

In Celaya, a city in Guanajuato, gunmen opened fire on a campaign event in April, killing a mayoral candidate and wounding three of her supporters.

Saucedo, the analyst, sees the shootings as a sign that narco gangs are no longer willing to see their handpicked candidates lose.

“Rather than allow the victory of a candidate who is not in line with their criminal interests, or allow a candidate linked to a rival drug gang to win, they use this tactic,” Saucedo said. “What we’re seeing in the final stretch is pretty desperate strategy on the part of some groups of drug traffickers.”

Saucedo said that such attempts at narco-control of local politics had been seen previously in some particularly violent states, like Tamaulipas. “What was once limited ... is now spreading to include the whole country,” he said.

The National Electoral Institute says it has had to cancel plans for 170 polling places, mostly in Chiapas and Michoacan and mostly because of security problems. In Chiapas, electoral authorities say there are places they can’t even go to. While that’s a tiny fraction of the country’s 170,858 polling places, it’s disturbing.

And in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo, a shadowy group that local media reports link to the dominant Northeast drug cartel has put up posters claiming one mayoral candidate is linked to the rival Gulf drug cartel.

Authorities have not confirmed the origin of the crude poster, which includes a photoshopped image of the candidate waving an assault rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest with the Gulf cartel’s insignia.

In the state of Morelos, just south of Mexico City, residents awoke this week to find a banner strung over a road claiming a gubernatorial candidate was tied to rival drug gangs. The banner was signed by a local drug boss whose name is unknown, “the Commander of the Three Letters.”

Another apparently gang-related banner threatened that anyone trying to buy votes would be “punished severely.” That banner was signed by “Those who have always called the shots here.”

Such events appear to indicate that past calculations by the cartels — take out the strongest candidate you don’t like, and the remaining major-party candidate will win by default — have become more complicated.

In one town in Michoacan, Maravatio, the gangs apparently tried to eliminate any doubts as to who will win this year; they killed off three candidates for town mayor who were apparently not to their liking.

Oh Christ, Zuma's back?

So it is very much "we're tired of these corrupt grifters, we'd prefer these new corrupt grifters."

Yeah, the BBC claiming the vote is a sign of voters turning against the ANC after years of corruption and incompetence is laughable. The party that took the votes is made up of the worst of the worst of the ANC.

Voters just want their guy to be the one killing the golden goose.

The good news is Zuma can't be in parliament as a convicted criminal, therefore he can't be president.

Prederick wrote:

Modi has made his intentions pretty clear that he wants to go the Erdogan/Netanyahu route and effectively destroy the last vestiges of civil society so he can rule forever. The Indian people appear to have tapped the brakes on that a tiny bit.

Nigerians divided over democracy

Nigeria, a nation once notorious for military rule, is marking 25 years of democracy.

The brass bands will play, the crowd will cheer and the president will make a speech – but outside of Wednesday’s official event many may be wondering what the celebration is really for.

“You cannot eat democracy” is a phrase often attributed to autocrats - but it has also been used by elected leaders as a warning about what a population might demand of them.

As many Nigerians struggle to earn enough to live on, amid an economic crisis and dramatically rising prices, some appear to be very unhappy with how they are being governed.

A survey by respected polling organisation Afrobarometer in 2022, before the current crisis, found that more than three-quarters of Nigerians surveyed were either “not very” or “not at all” satisfied with democracy.
A worrying statistic for Africa’s most populous country.

Nevertheless, the same survey found that a majority preferred democracy to any other system of governance.

Perhaps because the bitter memories of military rule still linger for many.

Since independence in 1960, the periods of civilian rule were short-lived with generals governing the country for most of the time up until 1999.

“A military coup will be almost impossible in Nigeria now,” historian Prof Kayode Soremekun said.

“The military itself has exhausted its own historic possibilities. Over time, the military has been shown to be as venal as the political class. So, the majority of Nigerians no longer see them as messiahs,” he added.

The military regimes were filled with pain and oppression, 59-year-old Adedeji Adekunle told the BBC.

Now an event planner, he recalled his experience as a student in early 1998.

“Years back, I joined a ‘military-must-go’ protest in [the main city] Lagos and soldiers attacked and arrested us. Many were tortured. It was a traumatic experience,” he said.

The period of military rule in the 1980s and 1990s was "marked by economic collapse, political repression and systematic human rights violations”, according to New York-based campaign group Human Rights Watch.

After the death of Nigeria’s head of state, Gen Sani Abacha in 1998, his successor, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar promised elections, ushering in a new era of civilian rule a year later.

“The return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999 raised a lot of expectations, dreams, and wishes for a free, secure, united, and peaceful country,” former Senator Shehu Sani said.

Mr Adekunle breathed a sigh of relief at the time.

“Many of us initially doubted if Gen Abubakar would hand over power, but after the election was held and the winner was announced, the atmosphere changed. It was like a fresh breeze blew on the nation.”

But for today's youth, who were not politically aware or even born at that time, the folk memory of military rule is less important.

Current President, Bola Tinubu, in power for just over a year, is facing the challenge of winning over the hearts and minds of young Nigerians amid a tough economic environment, some of which is of his own making.

His ending of the fuel subsidy and allowing the currency to devalue have sent prices shooting up.

These ambitious reforms were aimed at stabilising the economy and fostering sustainable growth in the long term, but that is no succour for those most affected.

And taking the past 25 years in Nigeria as a whole, the fact that the average income per person has seen a more than four-fold increase is unimportant for many.

It is how they perceive the current situation that counts.

As a consequence some young Nigerians, such as 33-year-old screenwriter MI Thomas, would not mind a return to military rule.

‘’I have voted since I turned 18 and all of the leaders have disappointed, every single one of them. Military regimes are decisive. They take swift action and bring effectiveness to governance,’’ he said.

A number of other young Nigerians have expressed the same desire on social media.

What may have encouraged this could be a lack of trust in the political class due to unfulfilled promises.

But it could also be a rose-tinted view of the past, with people saying that there was not as much crime and corruption during military rule.

But some may have forgotten, for example, that the late Gen Abacha looted and stashed a huge amount of public funds overseas. At least $6bn (£4.7bn) in cash and assets have been recovered so far.

It would be expected that President Tinubu was particularly sensitive to talk of military rule as he himself was once imprisoned for pro-democracy activities.

Very soon after coming to power, the president was faced with dealing with the coup in neighbouring Niger and was quick to condemn it and threatened military action – however his bold rhetoric came to nothing.

But at home, for its part, the military leadership has said that it has no interest in retaking power.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen Christopher Musa said in February that “people making such calls for a military takeover do not love Nigeria”.

“We want to make it clear that the armed forces of Nigeria are here to protect democracy. We all want democracy; we do better during democracy, and so, the armed forces will continue to support democracy.”

Nigeria's trajectory makes it among Earth's most important nations in the next 5 years.

Also: "Tomorrow's Afrobarometer forecast: Outta sight!"

Forty Indians among 50 dead in Kuwait block fire

At least 40 Indians are among 50 people killed in a fire at a residential building in the Kuwaiti city of Mangaf, India's foreign ministry has said.

The fire broke out on Wednesday in a building where dozens of workers stayed.

Video shared on social media showed flames engulfing the lower part of the building and thick black smoke billowing from the upper floors.

Most of the casualties are from the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Around 50 Indians have also been injured.

Three Filipinos have also been killed, AFP quoted Philippines officials as saying. Filipino and Nepali workers are also among the injured.

Two-thirds of the Kuwaiti population is made up of foreign workers and the country is highly dependent on migrant labour, especially in the construction and domestic sectors.

Human rights groups have regularly raised concerns over their living conditions.

Local media reports said the building housed 196 workers and there are suggestions that it may have been overcrowded.

A senior police officer told state TV that there were a "large number" of people in the building at the time of the fire.

"Dozens were rescued, but unfortunately there were many deaths as a result of inhaling smoke from the fire," he said, adding that warnings were often issued about overcrowding in this type of accommodation.

Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Fahad Yusuf al-Sabah accused property owners of greed and said violations of building standards had led to the tragedy.

"Unfortunately the greed of the property owners is what led to this," Sheikh al-Sabah, who is also acting interior minister, told Reuters news agency.

"They violate regulations and this is the result of the violations," he said.

I wonder how long this can possibly be sustainable, but as long as these gulf states have the money, it'll continue.

Following up on South Africa's elections. The coalition I didn't expect, but KramNesah called, ended up happening. The ANC and the largest opposition, the center-right 'white' party the Democratic Alliance have formed a coalition government with a couple of other smaller ones.


Current president Cyril Ramaphosa will keep his job and appoint a cabinet from all coalition parties.

I don't like the DA, but they do run a tight ship in local governments where they are in charge, so maybe they can have a positive influence on ANC governance. Plus Ramaphosa has been beholden to groups within the ANC that have crippled his presidency. Now most of those joined the MK party with Zuma and Ramaphosa is obligated to coalition parties so maybe his position within the ANC will be stronger.

There was a lot of chatter about this in the last 2 weeks, and when the ANC, DA and IFP formed a coalition to keep the MK out of leadership in Kwazulu-Natal, my province, where the MK won 45.93% this was clearly on the cards.

We certainly are in for 5 interesting years here in SA.

Not that the previous 30 were ever boring…

‘We need the world to wake up’: Sudan facing world’s deadliest famine in 40 years

Sudan is facing a famine that could become worse than any the world has seen since Ethiopia 40 years ago, US officials have warned, as aid deliveries continue to be blocked by the warring armies but arms supplies to both sides continue to flow in.

With much of the world’s attention focused on Gaza, the scene of another human-made famine, Sudan is already the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and is slipping towards a humanitarian disaster of historic proportions, with far less media coverage and global concern. A UN humanitarian appeal for the country has received only 16% of the funds it needs.

“We need the world to wake up to the catastrophe happening before our very eyes,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told reporters.

She was speaking as El Fasher, the capital of the North Darfur region and a former humanitarian hub, faced its second month under siege by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF is a paramilitary group that has been fighting the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) since April 2023, when a power struggle between two rival generals, the SAF’s Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the country’s de facto ruler, and the RSF’s Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, escalated into a conflict that has split the country. The civil war has already killed 14,000 people and forced 10 million to flee their homes.

The UN security council adopted a UK-drafted resolution on Thursday, demanding an end to the El Fasher siege, but the fighting escalated on Friday with the SAF claiming to have repelled a major RSF assault, inflicting “huge losses”.

The head of the US Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, said there were concerns over what would happen to the people sheltering in El Fasher if the town fell to the RSF. That force has largely been recruited from the Janjaweed militias, who carried out massacres while fighting on the Khartoum government’s side in the Darfur genocide of 2003 to 2005.

“The RSF is on the march, and where the RSF has gone in the Darfur area historically, and in this conflict, mass atrocities have followed,” Power said,

On Friday, she announced $315m in new US humanitarian assistance for Sudan, but said hardly any aid was reaching isolated populations. Both sides have been accused of using control over food access as a weapon.

“The RSF has been systematically looting humanitarian warehouses, stealing food and livestock, destroying grain storage facilities, and wells in the most vulnerable Sudanese communities,” Power said.

The USAID chief added: “The SAF completely contradicts its commitments, and its responsibilities to the Sudanese people by having shut down cross border access from Chad at the Adré crossing, which is the main route for assistance to enter the Darfur region.”

Power said Gen Burhan could open the Adré crossing with “a stroke of the pen”. The SAF has offered another access point from Chad, the Tine crossing, but US officials say it is already obstructed and inadequate for the needs of the population and will become impassable with the coming rainy season.

“The really clear message here is that it is obstruction, not insufficient stocks of food, that is the driving force behind the historic and deadly levels of starvation in Sudan,” Power said.

She added that current data suggested the crisis is “comparable to and potentially worse” than a 2011 famine in Somalia that killed a quarter of a million people.

“I would add that the most worrying scenario would be that Sudan would become the deadliest famine since Ethiopia in the early 1980s,” she added.

The Ethiopian famine killed a million people between 1983 and 1985, according to UN estimates. Thomas-Greenfield said that in a worst-case scenario, a famine in Sudan could become even more lethal.

“We’ve seen mortality projections estimating that in excess of 2.5 million people, about 15% of the population in Darfur and Kordofan – the hardest hit regions – could die by the end of September,” the ambassador said.

“This is the largest humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet. And yet, somehow, it threatens to get worse,” she added.

While humanitarian aid has faced constant obstruction, both sides in the war continue to receive weapons, the US officials said: the SAF from Russia and Iran among others, the RSF in particular from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a US ally.

Thomas-Greenfield said Washington had “engaged” with the UAE on the issue. However, a White House account of a “pull aside” meeting between Joe Biden and the UAE’s sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the G7 summit in Italy did not mention Sudan.

The US faces accusations of hypocrisy from many countries, particularly in the Global South, as Washington calls for an end to weapons supplies to parties involved in the conflict in Sudan, while continuing to provide billions of dollars-worth of weapons to Israel during its offensive on Gaza.

Ecuador’s Risky War on Narcos


After several hours of closed-door meetings with security officials, Daniel Noboa, the recently elected President of Ecuador, sat in a darkened office of the Presidential palace—an elegant eighteenth-century building, known as Carondelet, that overlooks the old center of Quito. When I arrived for our first meeting, Noboa was at a wide, empty desk, staring intently at his phone. Several minutes passed in silence before he looked up, mumbling an apology. We shook hands, and I asked how he was doing. “Surviving,” he said. He didn’t mean this in the ordinary, mildly ironic, getting-through-the-day way. A week earlier, he explained, a dozen hit men had been intercepted crossing the border from Colombia, apparently sent by drug traffickers to kill him. Four of the would-be assassins had been killed in a shoot-out with Ecuadorian security forces. The rest were in detention, but there were presumably others out there. Now that he was President, he said with a rueful laugh, he would never be out of danger again.

Noboa’s story about hit men might have seemed exaggerated, not to mention impolitic, but a foreign diplomat in Quito later confirmed it to me. The diplomat was taken aback that Noboa was discussing a highly confidential incident, but, he said, the new President had not yet mastered the art of discretion. I spent several weeks this spring with Noboa, travelling around Ecuador, and found that he spoke in an unfiltered way about most things, including his dangerous circumstances. Only a few months into his Presidency, he was overseeing an “internal armed conflict” against twenty-two criminal gangs that, taken together, constituted one of the most powerful forces in the country.

When Noboa took office, last November, his presentation was far sunnier. He is athletically built, clean-shaven, and boyishly handsome; at thirty-six, he is the world’s youngest elected head of state. (Ibrahim Traoré, of Burkina Faso, is four months younger, but he seized power in a military coup.) He is the son of Álvaro Noboa, often said to be Ecuador’s richest man, whose family banana business has grown into a conglomerate with interests in everything from fertilizer to container storage. Álvaro, who has estimated his fortune at more than a billion dollars, also launched five unsuccessful Presidential campaigns of his own.

Until 2021, when Daniel Noboa won a seat in the National Assembly, he was best known as an executive in his family’s business, and as an occasional presence in gossip columns. His first marriage, to Gabriela Goldbaum, a designer of high-fashion straw hats, ended in a difficult divorce. (Goldbaum claimed that the relationship unravelled after Noboa said he was going to Miami to meet with tax lawyers, then snuck off to Tulum with a woman named Anastasia.) He is now married to Lavinia Valbonesi, a twenty-six-year-old social-media influencer with arctic-blond hair.

Even Noboa described his run for President as “an improbable political project.” The country was in crisis. For decades, Ecuador, a small nation of eighteen million people, was generally regarded as a peaceful, stable place, at least by regional standards. Tourists came to see the Andes and to retrace Darwin’s route through the Galápagos Islands. Thousands of Americans retired there, seeking an easygoing, inexpensive life.

But across the border in Colombia the cocaine trade was flourishing. Despite a fifteen-year anti-trafficking effort supported by the United States, by 2016 the country was producing more of the drug than ever, accounting for an estimated sixty per cent of the world’s supply. In the past few years, Ecuador—which has a dollarized economy, a modern road system, and major ports on the Pacific—has become a critical hub for the Colombian drug trade. Devastating violence and corruption followed. Particularly on the coast, where drug gangs dominated, killings became commonplace, and many Ecuadorians fled, heading to safer parts of the country or to the U.S.

Last spring, a snap election was called to replace President Guillermo Lasso, an unpopular conservative who was stepping down eighteen months early, under threat of impeachment for alleged embezzlement. Among the candidates was Fernando Villavicencio, a former journalist who spoke urgently about the need to constrain the drug gangs. Eleven days before the election, as he left a campaign rally in Quito, a squad of Colombian gunmen shot him dead.

The election proceeded in a state of fearful tension, but the shock benefitted Noboa. Previously regarded as a well-prepared but unexciting speaker, he caused a sensation by arriving at a debate wearing a bulletproof vest. He promised to improve security, along with creating jobs and attracting foreign investment. Perhaps as important, he made a virtue of his youth. One TikTok video showed him squaring up with a rack of dumbbells at the gym, wearing a tank top in the same highlighter yellow as the national soccer team’s jerseys. In another, which his campaign posted under the slogan “Noboa for everyone,” Ecuadorians stopped their cars to grab life-size cutouts of him that his team had placed on city streets. One of his communications advisers, a twenty-five-year-old named Doménica Suárez, told me that Noboa had attracted intense support from young Ecuadorians—a crucial demographic in a country with an average age of twenty-eight and a voting age of sixteen.

The election was held in two rounds. In the initial round, Noboa came in second. In the runoff, he won fifty-two per cent of the vote. He took office projecting an image of himself as a commonsense leader, a businessman without much interest in ideology. What he promised, at least at the beginning, was not a war but a return to normalcy. “I’m not anti-anything,” he said. “I am pro-everything.”

When Noboa was sworn in, he seemed wary of radical solutions to the crisis in Ecuador; his main proposal was to build maximum-security prisons. For years, the country’s overcrowded jails had been effectively run from within by the leaders of narco-trafficking gangs, who used them as headquarters to organize crimes. Villavicencio’s assassination was reportedly commissioned by imprisoned leaders of a gang known as Los Lobos. After the U.S. posted a five-million-dollar reward for information on the attack, seven suspects were found dead in their cells—murdered, it was assumed, before they could talk. Such internecine violence was common. Turf warfare among gang members had led to gruesome prison massacres and hundreds of deaths.

In early January, six weeks into Noboa’s Presidency, the news broke that the country’s most dangerous prisoner had disappeared from his cell. Adolfo Macías, alias Fito, was the boss of the powerful gang Los Choneros; he was serving thirty-four years for a series of crimes that included drug trafficking and murder. A photo of him being led into custody had been a public-relations victory for the government: the disgraced kingpin—long-haired, shirtless, and built like a former wrestler going soft—submitting helplessly to armed security officers. Now he had escaped. Perhaps most startling, it emerged that Fito had vanished just as Noboa was planning to transfer him to the country’s highest-security prison, known as La Roca, or the Rock. It seemed likely that someone in the government had facilitated his escape.

While campaigning, Noboa had often stopped short of endorsing a military solution to his country’s gang problem. Now he declared a sixty-day state of emergency and sent in the Army to take control of the prisons. Ecuador’s gangs fought back. Across the country, they set off car bombs, triggered prison riots, and attacked police stations; amid the chaos, a leader of Los Lobos also escaped from jail. At the height of the tumult, on January 9th, gunmen broke into the studios of TC Televisión, in the coastal city of Guayaquil. The station was in the middle of a news broadcast, and the cameras kept rolling as reporters and studio employees pleaded for their lives. The attackers, most wearing masks, put guns to their captives’ heads and ordered them to lie down. Before anyone could be killed, a police task force arrived and arrested the assailants. But Ecuadorians were shaken: a near-massacre had played out on live TV.

Noboa announced a state of internal armed conflict and instituted new rules: the drug gangs would henceforth be classified as “terrorists” and regarded as military targets. Across the country, soldiers carried out patrols and armed raids, particularly in poor neighborhoods. There were shoot-outs and arrests, followed quickly by reports of heavy-handed treatment of suspects and, in some cases, of torture.

The gangs did not seem deterred. A week after the TC Televisión attack, the prosecutor assigned to the case was assassinated. In one of our conversations, Noboa predicted that there would be many more such killings. Ecuador was corrupted from top to bottom, he said—infiltrated by the Colombian cartels, their Mexican counterparts, and Albanian gangs. Noboa is not an imposing figure, but since being elected he has seemed increasingly eager to demonstrate his mano dura, or strong hand. He told me he had seen intelligence showing that, when he launched his campaign, the narcos predicted his government would collapse within a couple of weeks. “That was their plan,” he said. “They never expected me to have the balls to declare war on them.”

The next morning, a car picked me up before dawn and sped me to a V.I.P. airport, to accompany the President on one of the drug raids that his security forces had been carrying out. Noboa arrived soon afterward, in a convoy of black Suburbans. Travelling with him was like taking part in a small-scale military operation. He moved under close guard from his motorcade to the Presidential jet or a Presidential helicopter; when he got out of a vehicle, bodyguards unfurled bulletproof screens to protect him from potential snipers. At stops, dozens of security men formed tightly choreographed cordons, overseen by an élite military unit and private security guards, including a laconic Israeli named Rafi. (In a moment of indiscretion, Noboa disclosed that he received intelligence and security coöperation from the C.I.A. and Mossad.)

On flights, Noboa occupied a recliner-size leather seat, embossed with the Presidential seal. Aides filled the other rows, and flight attendants circulated with snacks. He usually dressed down, in slacks and sneakers, though sometimes he wore a flight jacket with the words “Daniel Noboa Presidente” embroidered in gold thread. Generally, he spent the time absorbed in his own thoughts, or scrolling through his phone, but he would respond to questions, and if a topic interested him he’d argue for his point of view in seemingly inexhaustible detail. (Several aides speculated to me that Noboa is on the autism spectrum.) On one flight, his intelligence chief mentioned that Alex Jones was tweeting about the container ship that crashed into Baltimore’s Key Bridge, suggesting that the controls had been hacked. Noboa, looking up from his phone, dismissed social media as largely vacuous: “Only ten per cent of what’s on there is valuable information. The rest is poison.” He added that his wife, Lavinia, was profoundly addicted. “If you hide her phone for two hours, she’ll collapse,” he said. (In fact, she joined us on a subsequent trip and hardly raised her eyes from her screen.)

The raid we were flying to was an hour away, in Guayaquil, the country’s sprawling commercial hub. We landed at a military base, and travelled by convoy to a dusty neighborhood at the edge of town. Squads of military officers and policemen were there, keeping curious onlookers at bay. The raid, it turned out, had already taken place, and a haul of drugs and weapons had been laid out like an open-air exhibition; next to it, seventeen detained men were lined up on their knees, with a masked security officer standing behind each one. Most of the detainees looked meekly at the pavement, but a few stared sullenly at the members of the Presidential entourage. Noboa, wearing a helmet and a flak jacket, stood silently for a moment and contemplated the detainees. Then, trailed by photographers, he walked around the confiscated drugs and weapons, assessing them with a stern look.

In less than half an hour, we were back in the convoy, and then on the Presidential jet, heading back to Quito. Considering that more than a thousand policemen and military personnel had been deployed, the results of the operation seemed modest: fifty-two kilos of drugs, a few weapons, and a lineup of detainees. But Doménica Suárez and her team were drafting a press release that would make it a major news item. Within hours, Ecuadorian media were leading with reports of the government’s “mega-operation”—a raid on an infamous Guayaquil housing project, controlled by a gang called Los Tiguerones (the Big Tigers), near which several dismembered bodies of victims had recently been recovered. The stories ran alongside pictures of Noboa in his helmet, looking decisive amid the action.

On the plane, Noboa made it clear that the trip, like others he had planned, was all about politics. In a few weeks, a national referendum was scheduled on several of his proposed security measures, including the continued deployment of the military, tougher prison sentences for drug offenses, and the extradition of narco-trafficking suspects to the U.S. Noboa knew that the referendum would also serve as an index of how Ecuadorians saw his leadership. If he succeeded, he would likely win next year’s Presidential election. If he lost, his political career was probably over. Noboa may have been prone to bluster, and the raids were obviously a kind of campaign event, but his presence there helped make him a visible enemy of the cartels. “Even if I’m in Geneva in twenty years, they could send a Russian hit man after me,” he said. He shrugged and stretched out his hands, smiling. “It is what it is.”

The next morning, staffers at Carondelet placed bouquets of fresh-cut flowers in the fountains of a central patio. Security men and attendants hustled around, while forty or so elderly men and women sat expectantly in a shaded arcade. The President, trying a new form of political outreach, was receiving the members of a local senior citizens’ group. The guests, dressed for a formal occasion, called excited greetings to one another.

Everyone applauded as Noboa and Lavinia descended the stairs from the palace and took seats before the crowd. Noboa wore a stylish suède jacket, a pink shirt, and blue slacks, and Lavinia had on a loose brown jacket and burgundy pants.

The first guest to speak, the group’s leader, stood and handed Noboa an effigy of the Virgin Mary, as if in offering. On the microphone, she addressed him affectionately as “one of the best Presidents in Latin America—and the youngest, too.” She said that she had worked for his father. Referring to him reverently as “the engineer,” she noted that she had participated in each of his five Presidential campaigns. A second guest also talked at length about Noboa’s father: he had built companies for Ecuador, and now it was his son’s turn to do something big.

As the audience chanted his family name, Noboa wore a slightly pained smile. Finally, he took the microphone and thanked the speakers for their kind words. Then he pivoted sharply to say, “I have to harden my heart, on behalf of eighteen million Ecuadorians.” He said that he wanted to restore “dignity” to his constituents’ lives, and suggested that experience had toughened him for the job. “I’ve spent all my life receiving attacks, directly or indirectly,” he said. “Maybe that’s why God put me here.” If any of the attendees detected a trace of messianism, they kept it to themselves as they clapped.

Noboa has a story that he likes to tell about his early travails. At eighteen, he started a company that staged concerts in Miami with popular Latin American musicians. But, he told me regretfully, he was inexperienced, and his business rivals were cutthroat. After a year, he went bankrupt, with more than a million dollars in debt, and asked his father for work. The family banana business, Bonita, had been steadily expanding, and Noboa was dispatched to Central America to hire farm managers. He travelled all over the region, including to the notoriously violent town of Tapachula, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Once, he recalled, he was caught in a gun battle between coyotes, and had to jump into a canal to avoid getting shot. Afterward, he said, his father had taken pleasure in joking that his son knew all the “worst places” in Latin America.

For the most part, the circumstances of Noboa’s life had set him apart from his constituents. He was born in Miami and speaks English like a native. He says that he feels equally American and Ecuadorian, and when I asked him where he felt the most at home in the U.S. he immediately said, “New York.” His father owned a home in the Hamptons, and he went there every summer growing up. The elder Noboa was a political combatant, fond of the epithet “Communist devil,” but Daniel seemed groomed from the start to join the international élite. He earned a bachelor’s degree at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, followed by an M.B.A. from Northwestern, a master’s in public administration from Harvard, and a master’s in political communication and strategic governance from George Washington University.

He and Lavinia have two children, both toddlers; they came along on a flight we took to the coast, with a detachment of nannies to care for them. Noboa wanted to offer his children an education like the one he’d had. As a boy, he had gone to an élite private German school in Guayaquil, which he said was beneficially strict. He explained that the tuition hadn’t been that expensive, three or four hundred dollars a month, so he had made friends not only with the children of bankers but also with those of bus drivers. (They would likely have been among a small number of scholarship students; in those years, four hundred dollars was more than the entire monthly earnings of a typical bus driver in Ecuador.)

Noboa seemed unconcerned, or perhaps unaware, that his wealth might inspire resentment. On a flight over the Andes, I had seen a patchwork section of jungle and asked about deforestation. He replied that it wasn’t bad—the forest in that area regenerated quickly—and then immediately added, “For the record, I believe in climate change.” He acknowledged that the glaciers were retreating in South America, and the snow was vanishing in Europe. “But it wasn’t bad in Colorado last winter,” he said. “The powder is still good there. I go every winter.” He was an avid snowboarder, he said, and as a teen-ager had won a championship in New York State.

On the flight with Lavinia, as we approached the coastal city of Salinas, he pointed to a lake just inland from the beach. “I really want to build a home there one day,” he said. “It’s a dream of mine.” Lavinia smiled but said nothing. Their current beach house, in the resort town of Olón, was close enough to nearly be visible from the site he had in mind.

That night in Olón, we went to dinner at a rustic-chic restaurant. The security men took up stations outside, and the tables near us were kept empty, but the other diners waved and smiled from across the room. As servers brought us swordfish, Noboa spoke about a dry part of southern Ecuador where people go to ease health problems. Someday, he said, he wanted to retire to an almond farm there. “It’s a great area for that,” he said. “To be surrounded by all those white blossoms . . . ”

Lavinia had dressed for dinner in a tunic with a vivid turquoise pattern. She is the daughter of an Italian adventurer, who arrived in the Galápagos Islands and opened a hotel there, and an Ecuadorian woman. Before becoming First Lady, she had been a social-media influencer, a model, and the owner of a health-food restaurant. When I asked how she had adjusted to politics, she smiled again and said that she never expected this life. Anyway, she added, she was just a mother, while “Daniel has all the hard work to do.” With an adoring look, she said, “I am just so proud of him. He’s saving our country.”

Later, Lavinia passed Noboa her phone, saying quietly, “Something’s up in a prison.” Noboa read a text message—it was his chief of staff, informing him of rioting and a hostage situation in one of the Guayaquil prisons. Noboa fretted briefly, speculating that the riot was being staged as a distraction; the attorney general was about to present a key witness in an anti-corruption case. But dinner went on, and soon he got another message, saying that the rioting had ended. Before we left, guests from the other tables came to ask for selfies with the First Couple. Noboa and Lavinia rose from the table and posed with Instagram-ready smiles.

Noboa took office at a time of uncertain change in Latin America. As populism surges, the traditional split between left and right is eroding. There are ten governments in the region that could be described as left wing, but they range widely. There are those led by performative militants (Gustavo Petro, in Colombia, and the lame duck Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in Mexico) and by pragmatic social democrats (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in Brazil, and Gabriel Boric, in Chile). At the extreme are the weary authoritarian regimes still proclaiming revolution in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.

On the right, the most visible leaders are the most outrageous ones. In El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, a social-media-savvy millennial, has given himself dictatorial powers as he fights street gangs. In Argentina, the self-described “anarcho-capitalist” Javier Milei has declared war on the welfare state, advocating a market so free of constraints that, as he once suggested, people would ultimately be able to buy and sell children. Milei has been embraced by Viktor Orbán and by Donald Trump; Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg posed for photos with him when he visited the U.S. When Bukele recently staged a ceremony to celebrate his reëlection, the guests included Donald Trump, Jr., Tucker Carlson, and Matt Gaetz.

In this milieu, it is perhaps unsurprising that Noboa tries to resist political categorization. The diplomat in Quito told me that he espouses both center-right security policies and center-left social-welfare programs. In our conversations, though, Noboa seemed to be evolving a political philosophy on the fly. One afternoon, as we rode in his armored S.U.V. to the opening of a low-income housing project near the city of Riobamba, I asked which Latin American leader he felt most aligned with. He smiled and said, “Lula.” This was unexpected—in Brazil and abroad, Lula is a longtime emblem of the left. But Noboa said that he had met Lula fifteen years earlier, at a “father-and-son business leaders’ summit” organized by the Mexican communications magnate Carlos Slim. Since then, Lula had impressed him with his political savvy and his ability to push through an agenda.

He seemed less impressed by other regional leaders. When I mentioned Chile’s Boric—a fellow-millennial, just a few years older—Noboa said that he “seems all right,” but was hamstrung by his far-left coalition partners. “It’s not a problem I have,” he added. He described Colombia’s President, the former Marxist guerrilla Petro, as a “leftist snob,” adding that he had a habit of delivering lectures rather than engaging in conversation. “He’s smart, but he’s not getting anything done,” Noboa said. Milei was worse, in his view: “I don’t know why he thinks he’s so great. He hasn’t achieved anything since he became President. He seems full of himself—which is very Argentine, actually.”

Among his peers in the region, Noboa is most often compared to Bukele, who has moved to end his country’s security problems by jailing more than eighty thousand purported gang members, some of them in a gigantic, purpose-built new prison. But a close aide of Noboa’s had warned me that his boss reacted badly to the comparison. When I mentioned Bukele’s name in the S.U.V., he wrinkled his nose and said, “The guy is arrogant and all about controlling power for himself and making his family rich.” There were a handful of families who owned everything in El Salvador, he said, “and now there are the Bukeles.” I noted that Bukele had referred to himself as “the coolest dictator in the world.” Noboa smirked and said, “Yeah, in a country the size of Guayas”—a midsize province of Ecuador.

Noboa distinguished his security campaign from that of Bukele, who had imposed authoritarian measures by overriding his country’s institutions. “What I did was entirely democratic,” Noboa said. “I asked the legislature and the judiciary when I declared my war. I had the backing of the three powers to do it.”

In fact, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court found that Noboa had supplied insufficient evidence to justify his declaration. International observers raised concerns that his security forces had essentially discarded due process. Juanita Goebertus, the director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, pointed out that more than thirteen thousand people had been arrested in just the first two months of this year. There were reports of detainees being beaten or denied a hearing with a judge. “So far, Daniel Noboa still seems concerned about not being labelled an authoritarian,” Goebertus said. “What he has to do is take the appropriate measures so that he doesn’t become one.”

But Noboa seemed to suspect that many of his constituents wouldn’t mind an authoritarian leader, if he could rid the country of the cartels. Throughout the region, the fraying of democratic institutions and the rise of insecurity had encouraged support for strongmen. “If you took a poll right now,” he said, “the fact is most Latin Americans would take dictatorship over democracy.”

Despite Noboa’s security measures, his government seemed fragile. During my visit, there were constant reports of killings. In the past two years, the homicide rate had more than tripled, making it the highest in Latin America.

Noboa portrayed Ecuador as a country that had been hijacked with the compliance of its officials. Since taking office, he had fired the heads of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The attorney general, Diana Salazar, had carried out an investigation called the Metástasis case, which uncovered extensive evidence allegedly implicating scores of judges, prosecutors, and police and prison officials in collusion with narco-trafficking.

Perhaps as much as Noboa blamed the drug lords, he blamed his predecessor Rafael Correa. A protégé of the Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez, Correa was a charismatic, divisive leftist, who ran Ecuador from 2007 to 2017. His administration was widely seen as corrupt; his Vice-President was imprisoned for bribery, and Salazar, the attorney general, accused Correa as well. By then, he had fled to Belgium. In 2020, after being tried in absentia on corruption charges, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Still, he has a devoted following in Ecuador, and his party, Revolución Ciudadana, holds the largest share of seats in congress. Noboa’s main rival in last year’s election was a Correa loyalist, and it was generally understood that if she won she would facilitate his return to power. When the next election is held, in February, 2025, Noboa will surely have to face another candidate picked by Correa. To survive politically, he must weaken Correa’s influence, and his strategy is clearly to blame him for the narcopolítica that has consumed Ecuador.

Noboa argued that Correa had set the problem in motion in 2009, by forcing a U.S. military base out of Manta, a port city in the coastal province of Manabí. The Americans had used the base to launch surveillance flights and block drug shipments, but Correa insisted that their presence violated Ecuadorian sovereignty. As Paulina Recalde, an Ecuadorian political pollster, pointed out, two of the more popular protest slogans in the Correa years were “Take the base out of Manta” and “No to the T.L.C.”—a proposed free-trade agreement with the U.S.

Correa rejects the idea that removing the base encouraged trafficking. “That’s like saying that it happened because the Spaniards were removed from Ecuador at independence!” he told me recently. “When I left office, nobody was saying Ecuador was a narco-state.” But it is indisputable that, in the years that followed, Manabí became a stronghold for narcos, as well as the locus of vicious turf wars. Noboa told me that his administration had intelligence showing that some sixty per cent of the province’s political class was involved with traffickers, who used public-works contracts to co-opt officials and to launder their profits. Anyone who opposed them was murdered. Last July, the mayor of Manta, Agustín Intriago, was inspecting a sewage facility when hit men drove up and shot him to death; a woman talking with him was also killed. The day I arrived in Ecuador, the country’s youngest mayor, Brigitte García, was shot to death in her home town of San Vicente. Her body was found in a car, alongside the corpse of her press officer. Noboa told me that, before García died, she had scheduled a meeting with him. He suggested that narcos had killed her because she was going to share compromising information about them.

During my visit, Noboa was planning a swing through Manabí. With the referendum coming, he wanted to be seen visiting cartel territory, and also hoped to promote his programs for a “new Ecuador,” which would provide employment, wean young people from the drug business, and ease insecurity in the region. As his aides worked out details of the trip, five people were kidnapped from a hotel in a beach town near Manta, and their bodies were later found on the side of a road. The victims seemed unconnected to trafficking, and Noboa and his advisers were baffled, until a theory emerged that it was a case of mistaken identity, in which a drug gang believed that the visitors belonged to a rival group.

Noboa managed a bluff response. When one of the suspected killers was captured, a few days later, he tweeted out a video of a masked policeman forcing the suspect, a scruffy young man, into a patrol car. Beneath it, he wrote, “We won’t rest until we find the others.” But he seemed frustrated by the situation. After we arrived in Manta, he held a security briefing with his intelligence chief, his interior minister, his defense minister, and the governor of Manabí, along with the regional head of the police and a senior naval officer. In opening remarks, a police official said that Noboa’s administration had brought down homicides substantially. Yet everyone knew that the toll remained appalling: some two thousand deaths in the months since he had taken office. Noboa complained about the murdered tourists. “It gives the impression of a lack of control,” he said. “With the referendum coming up, it’s imperative to mount more aggressive police operations.”

The governor seemed eager to show aggression. He asked Noboa for “more firmness,” and for additional protections for police, “who fear that, down the road, they’ll be held to account for human rights for what they’re doing now.” (Attorney General Salazar had opened at least eight investigations into extrajudicial killings.) He also asked for a system that would offer rewards for the capture of the most wanted criminals, arguing that “the relatives of the criminals themselves will turn them in.” Noboa responded grimly, “We’ll post a list of military objectives, not ‘most wanted,’ and everyone can figure out for themselves what that means.”

Two prominent members of Los Choneros had been arrested recently, and the governor asked to have them transferred to La Roca. But the naval officer resisted the idea, warning that it was risky to mix “prisoners of war,” as he called gang leaders, with white-collar “political prisoners.” He also noted that he had intelligence indicating that the prospect of moving to the tightly controlled prison had caused rising tensions among the narcos.

Noboa’s interior minister, Mónica Palencia, bristled. She asked the naval officer curtly whether he was implying that the government should not move important prisoners to La Roca because they “felt tense.” Noboa broke in to settle the matter: “There are still vacant cells at La Roca, and it is the highest-security facility we have.”

The next morning, over breakfast at the luxurious beachfront hotel where Noboa was staying, I asked about the exchange. Noboa suggested that it wasn’t unusual to get pushback from security officers. “I’m sure they have agreements,” he said. (The naval officer denied links to drug trafficking.) “The big guys don’t want to go to La Roca because they have no control.” In other prisons, he said, the inmates were used to doing whatever they liked: “It’s like a night club.”

After our breakfast attendant left the room, he lowered his voice and said, “Manabí is one of the areas where the military has done the fewest crackdowns. If I didn’t come here, there was no chance they were going to move those guys to La Roca.” He speculated that the drop in murders in Manta—there had been two the previous day, he said, down from five earlier that week—was also due to his visit. “It would have been way too shameful for the military and the police to have an increase in violent deaths with me present.” Looking around the breakfast room, he said, “This place, Manta, it’s like Sinaloa.”

In Manta, Noboa held an event in a college auditorium with the Israeli Ambassador, to mark the announcement of a program of “circular immigration,” in which young Ecuadorians would be allowed to travel to Israel as agricultural workers. There would also be new scholarship programs in several countries, including Hungary, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Spain. “The youth are the most vulnerable to the narco-terrorists, so they are my top priority,” Noboa said. “If we don’t look after our youth, we are destined to fail.”

Travelling through rural Manabí, Noboa made quick stops in a string of small towns. In each, he was greeted by politicians, local beauty queens, and applauding teen-agers. Wearing a T-shirt that read “Youth Employment—The New Ecuador,” he promised greater security and government support for projects in agriculture, fish processing, and mining.

The culminating event of our trip was supposed to have been a drug raid in a rural town, but our appearance there was called off at the last minute. Noboa told me that the suspects had been alerted by an intelligence leak, so the bust was too insignificant to bother with—he wasn’t about to show up for three guys caught with a couple of kilos and a donkey. Instead, we went to Guayaquil, where he took two days off to visit relatives, including his first child, who lives there with his ex-wife. While he was occupied, I obtained permission to visit La Roca.

Ecuador’s most secure prison sits next to a highway on the scrubby outskirts of the city, an area of car-repair shops, electrical pylons, and run-down buildings. The entry road was surrounded by chain-link fencing, overgrown with weeds, and festooned with trash. A new warden, Martha Macías, was appointed earlier this year, after one of her predecessors was accused of smuggling a weapon into the prison. Macías, a woman in her fifties who wore a billowy red shirt, a white baseball cap, and gold-framed sunglasses, arrived to escort me into the prison. We went through inspections, including an electronic body scan and a pat-down, in a series of rooms where police and penitentiary employees jostled for space with military officers. Macías explained that Noboa had brought in the Army to monitor the rest of the staff. The military had effectively no experience in running prisons, and the atmosphere was strained.

The interior of La Roca was a warren of concrete hallways with brown walls and harsh lighting. As Macías led me through, surrounded by guards, she described the strictures that had been imposed there since Noboa declared his internal war: prisoners were forbidden family visits and kept in lockdown for twenty-three and a half hours a day, with a half hour allotted for recreation in a concrete yard with a steel-mesh roof. In the yard, Macías showed spots in the wall where the prisoners had formerly hidden cell phones and weapons; they were now plugged with concrete. In a small infirmary, a prisoner was talking with a medic. Macías said that the room had been Fito’s cell, before he had presumably used his influence to secure a transfer to a more comfortable prison—from which he then escaped.

In another room was a screen where prisoners could talk by Zoom with their lawyers. The room doubled as a library, and on a makeshift shelf I spotted a Deepak Chopra book and an English-language copy of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” Nearby was a tome on Ecuador’s judicial system and another on agronomy. “Please try and get us some more books,” Macías pleaded.

The main cellblock was a dark, cavernous two-story rectangle built around a concrete yard. It held about fifty of Ecuador’s most dangerous prisoners, Macías explained, but also a former senior judicial official and the son of Ecuador’s Vice-President, who had been charged with influence-peddling. Noboa had had a falling out with the Vice-President, and some observers believed that he had orchestrated her son’s arrest in an attempt to force her resignation. (A spokesman for Noboa said that judicial authorities had made the decision independently.)

As we approached, prisoners reached through the bars of their cells and pressed their faces close to look. Macías got permission from one inmate for me to see his cell. The inmate, a pale middle-aged man, was led out by a cordon of guards. In the cell, which Macías described wryly as a “suite,” there were two concrete slabs, stacked like bunk beds; one held a soiled mattress. There was also a toilet and a sink. Macías explained that prisoners didn’t leave their cells even for meals.

The cellblock was hot, and the air still and fetid. After a few minutes, prisoners began calling out from the floor above. One shouted, “Help us get back our family visits!” Another, complaining about the constant lockdown, screamed, “This isn’t El Salvador!”

La Roca was evidently not the worst-case scenario. Ecuador’s prisons are largely off limits to journalists, but Human Rights Watch says that observers have reported “restrictions in the provision of food, medicines and other basic services, cases of beatings, use of teargas, electric shocks, sexual violence and deaths at the hands of soldiers.” Even at La Roca, there wasn’t enough food for “los P.P.L.,” Macías told me, referring to the Spanish for “persons deprived of liberty.” As she drove me back out, she asked me to tell the President about the problems she faced. In Quito a couple of days later, I relayed her concerns to Noboa. He listened but looked unsympathetic. “The conditions could be a lot worse,” he said.

Durán, a sprawling town across the river from Guayaquil, is the most dangerous place in Ecuador. Gangs are fighting for control of its streets, and last year alone more than four hundred people were murdered there.

In May, 2023, a reformist new mayor named Luis Chonillo was ambushed as he drove to his inauguration, and three people were killed. Chonillo survived, but he has never sat in the mayor’s office; he lives in secrecy, surrounded by armed guards. He governs by phone and Zoom, and often sleeps in a different bed each night. Every few weeks, he visits his family, who have fled to a safer location.

I met Chonillo in the back room of a public building in Guayaquil. He entered accompanied by guards, wearing a flak jacket and a helmet. The violence in Durán had become gruesome, he said, with beheadings and bodies hung from overpasses. “I try to overcome my fear every day,” he told me.

Chonillo, who is thirty-nine, has degrees from the University of Miami and from Mexico’s élite Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. He was in Mexico in 2006 when President Felipe Calderón declared his own war on the drug cartels. Since then, nearly two hundred and fifty thousand people are estimated to have died as a result of the conflict, and more than a hundred thousand have disappeared. “What is happening here now is something like that,” Chonillo said. “States of siege tend to work at the beginning. But without continuity these policies don’t work.” He suggested that law enforcement needed to be matched by programs to address the poverty and inequity that allow gangs to flourish. “It’s important to get resources to the affected towns and cities,” Chonillo said. “Otherwise, how will we ever recover the public spaces?”

As Mexicans grew disillusioned with the internal war, President López Obrador adopted a reformist policy known as abrazos, no balazos (“hugs, not bullets”). Noboa dismissed this milder philosophy, saying that it had done nothing to curb violence in Mexico. He pointed out that the powerful Sinaloa and Nueva Generación cartels had only increased their influence in Ecuador, with deadly results.

In his most combative and self-regarding moods, Noboa seemed to suggest that he was fighting the war with the narcos on his own. He showed me a video from social media in which masked thugs warned that they were going to rape his wife and kill him—one of many such threats, he said. With obvious pleasure, he told a story about how he’d sent word to a gang chief that, if he didn’t free a group of hostages he had taken, Noboa would go in with the special forces and personally “shoot him in the face.” During one of my visits, he was carrying around “Fouché,” Stefan Zweig’s biography of Napoleon’s crafty, amoral minister of police.

One day, flying back to Quito after a visit to a prison in Cuenca, where authorities had discovered a secret tunnel dug by inmates, Noboa wondered whether it was possible to build a prison in territory that Ecuador has legal access to in Antarctica. “We have a slice of it, so why not?” he said, with a sly smile. “A prison for just a hundred guys.” A senior aide, sitting across from us, coughed nervously. “Mr. President, it’s not a bad idea, but I think the Antarctic nations are bound by a treaty, and their presence there is limited to scientific research and the like,” he said. “But I will investigate.”

After a moment’s consideration, Noboa raised another possibility. If Antarctica turned out to be too complicated, could he protect prosecutors and judges who were facing threats by moving them to Ecuadorian embassies abroad? Could they legally try and sentence criminals from there? Looking doubtful, the aide promised to investigate that, too.

As the bloody skirmishes with the narcos dragged on, Noboa seemed increasingly conspiratorial. In conversation, he intimated that some of his political rivals had sex with minors. Publicly, he referred to a judge who challenged him over prisoners’ rights as “anti-patriotic” and suggested that his opposition in the legislature was trying to “destabilize the government.”

In April, there were frequent power outages, causing widespread frustration. In response, Noboa fired the energy minister, accusing her and twenty-one other officials of sabotage. An administration spokesman claimed that enemies had disabled a hydroelectric dam by opening the floodgates; the dam turned out not to have floodgates. Soon afterward, a luxury development that Noboa’s wife was planning on land owned by his family was halted by environmentalists, who pointed out that it encroached on a nature conservancy. An investigation was opened, but Noboa claimed that his family was abandoning the project only to avoid empowering his political opponents.

On the evening of April 5th, Noboa made an extraordinarily provocative move: he ordered police commandos to breach the gates of the Mexican Embassy in Quito. Inside, they arrested Jorge Glas, who had served as Ecuador’s Vice-President under Rafael Correa. Glas is a controversial figure who, in 2017 and 2020, was convicted of bribery and corruption and sentenced to a total of fourteen years in prison—though a judge allowed him early release, ruling that his well-being was at risk. He was under investigation in a separate case when he fled to the Embassy and secured political asylum.

A standoff ensued, as Noboa refused to honor the asylum. Finally, he told the police to move in. Within minutes, videos circulated online that showed the former Vice-President being driven from the compound, and the Mexican official in charge of the Embassy shouting in outrage as he was jostled by police and then pushed to the ground. Officials around the world expressed indignation over a breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Mexican government broke off relations with Ecuador, and Nicaragua soon followed, condemning the “neo-fascist political barbarism” of Noboa’s government.

Observers within Ecuador were furious, too. Verónica Potes, a prominent lawyer and activist, told me, “To go into the Mexican Embassy like that was a signal that he is ready to violate any norm. I don’t think he has any scruples about breaking any laws.” She said that Noboa appeared determined to consolidate power, with the referendum and his reëlection in mind. Leonidas Iza, the leader of Ecuador’s largest Indigenous alliance, conaie, presented me with a litany of Noboa’s worrisome behaviors—which included accusing rights groups like his of conspiring with narcos. “It’s clear that Noboa is trying to create a state like Bukele’s,” Iza said. “It goes beyond authoritarianism. He has a dictatorial attitude.”

Thirty-six hours after the Embassy raid, I met Noboa at Carondelet, where I was shown into an expansive living area with elaborate sofas, gilded mirrors, and a grand piano topped with silver-framed photographs of his family. Through the windows, I could see the ranks of terra-cotta roofs that make up the colonial heart of old Quito, and beyond them the tin-roofed slums on the adjacent hills.

Noboa came in wearing a red-and-white athletic shirt bearing the logo for Pilsener, a ubiquitous Ecuadorian beer. Chuckling, he said, “It’s been a crazy few days.” He explained his decision to arrest Glas. “The option of entering the Embassy was always in my head over the last couple of months,” he said. He told me that Attorney General Salazar had heard from witnesses in the Metástasis case that Glas was leading operations aimed at undermining his government. “He’s a very dark figure,” Noboa said.

As Vice-President, Glas had overseen the ministries in charge of ports, highways, electrical plants, and petroleum. “If you were a cartel, you needed to talk to two guys,” Noboa said. “Glas and another guy, José Serrano, who was the minister of the interior.” Serrano was living comfortably in Florida; Noboa had asked American officials to arrest him, but they had thus far declined. (Serrano denied any wrongdoing and called the accusations “baseless.” Glas’s lawyer said that his client hadn’t been charged with committing anti-government acts or having connections with drug groups.) Glas, meanwhile, had taken the fall for the Correa team, evidently without informing on anyone. “If he gets out of jail, he’s got power,” Noboa said. “The day he talks, the whole structure collapses.”

Noboa told me that the U.S., Canada, and China had not said anything about the Embassy raid. “They seem O.K. with it,” he said. A few days later, the U.S. national-security adviser, Jake Sullivan, denounced the incursion, saying that it “jeopardizes the foundation of basic diplomatic norms.” But the responses from Canada and China were milder, and slower to arrive.

Along with Mexico and Nicaragua, Venezuela and Colombia also forcefully condemned the raid. Noboa saw a plot: Correa and his allies were trying to position him as a right-wing extremist. “They need to show me as a neo-Nazi, because I’ve been taking away their more moderate voters,” he said. “They want to put me in that box because it’s hard to fight me when I am in the center.” Laughing, he added, “It’s like an M.M.A. fight—I would beat them all, because I have ground game, and I can kick and punch them. But if they put me in a boxing match I’d probably lose, because it’s the only thing they know how to do.”

Regardless of the controversy, his polling numbers remained high. Noboa considered the raid a victory: “If Glas had escaped, we’d have lost the referendum, because it would have made us look weak.”

When the referendum was held, on April 21st, Noboa won it handily, as some two-thirds of voters approved nine of his security measures. His economic plans were far less popular; two proposals to loosen business regulations, which his opposition had described as gifts to the neoliberal élite, were soundly rejected. But, over all, Noboa was delighted by the outcome. Even before the votes were entirely counted, he proclaimed victory on social media, writing, “I apologize for jumping the gun on a triumph that I cannot help but celebrate.” That evening, he gathered with his wife and several close aides on the rooftop of Carondelet, with the lights of the city beneath them.

A week later, when I saw him in his office, he was still in an upbeat mood. He was wearing a tailored gray suit with a yellow-and-blue silk tie; an emissary of the Pope was waiting in a nearby room to see him. Since our last meeting, however, there had been an uptick in violence in several provinces. Two mayors had been murdered, and the warden of a prison in Manabí had been killed. Noboa said that he had mounted a response: “Like they’ve done in Donetsk and Luhansk, we’re moving the whole Army to those five provinces.” He laughed at the ungainly comparison to the war in Ukraine, but he was serious about further militarizing the conflict. He had extended the state of emergency, and it seemed possible that it would go on for the foreseeable future.

Huge numbers of Ecuadorians were still fleeing the violence, making their way north through the lawless Darién jungle, which links Panama and Colombia. On the way, many were preyed on by criminals, suffering robberies, rapes, and sometimes murder. Ecuador was also being used as a transit point for U.S.-bound migrants from other countries. Noboa said that sixty thousand Chinese people—mostly young men—had flown into Quito in the first three months of the year, and only half had flown out. The rest were presumably heading north.

Outside Latin America, Noboa has retained the support of key allies, including the United States. “The sense is, he has warts, but who doesn’t?” the diplomat in Quito said. But Noboa expressed frustration at the extent of that support. He complained that the U.S. had recently sent ninety billion dollars to help Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, while giving him just ten million for his fight against the cartels. “Ten million dollars,” he exclaimed. “We’re in a war, and we represent twenty per cent of the migration crisis.” He went on, “Yesterday, I had a meeting with the C.I.A., and I said, ‘Please, help. Focus all your efforts on the border between Ecuador and Colombia. If you don’t want to help us with anything else, it’s enough to do that.’ ”

I wondered whether Noboa’s idea for an Antarctic prison was still on the table. He said that his aide had looked into it: “Initially, they said you could only have scientific-research stations.” But there might be a way around the restriction, if the facility was run by the military. He could already picture it—the country’s enemies removed to a military prison, in a frigid waste thousands of miles from Quito. “Yes!” he said. “It’s a great possibility.”

EDIT: Bah. Click through for a NHK World video about how difficult it is for foreigners to rent in Japan.

Prederick wrote:

Like I mentioned on the Ukraine thread, this is fundamentally about Ukraine. Dagestanis and Buryatis are being ruthlessly exploited by Putin as meat for the Ukrainian grinder. His genocidal project to build a white, Orthodox "greater Russia" begins with eliminating Muslims and Asians and then resettling depopulated lands with proper "stock". Additionally, his instruments for doing so domestically include the Rosgvardia who the western press euphemistically calls "the Russian national antiterrorism police" when they are really the gestapo whose real purpose is to terrorize and torture folks into submitting to Putin's vision and the Orthdox Church headed by a former KGB murderer who uses the power of the pulpit to do the same. 15 "police officers" and 1 "priest" being unemployed by a brutalized population is only "terrorism" in the widest sense of the word.