The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Ecuador pardons small-time drug couriers

Hundreds of jailed convicts are celebrating Ecuador's decision to pardon low-level drug couriers known as "mules."

The pardons were approved Friday by Ecuador's constitutional assembly, which has taken on legislative powers after suspending the nation's Congress last year.

The assembly pardoned couriers who have been convicted of carrying 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of drugs or less, served at least 10 percent of their sentences or one year in prison, and are not repeat offenders.

Last year, President Rafael Correa proposed the pardons and new drug-sentencing rules, calling it absurd to sentence small-time couriers to more than 10 years in prison for carrying as little as 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cocaine.

"The president has come through with his promise, and we appreciate him and the assembly members," said Carlo Aragundi, head of a prisoners' organization at a jail in Quito.

Aragundi, who is serving 20 years for robbery, estimated that 1,200 prisoners may be eligible for pardon.

Ernesto Pazmino, director of Ecuador's public defender's office, said the government will start accepting pardon applications on Monday and has 30 days to release qualified prisoners.

Supreme Court Magistrate Rodrigo Bucheli criticized the constitutional assembly for pressing forward with the pardons without yet addressing the problematic laws behind the tough drug sentences.

Ecuador's current drug laws, which Correa said were drafted under pressure from the U.S., do not differentiate between big-time traffickers and the low-level bagmen who smuggle drugs for them. "Mules" often swallow or carry small amounts of drugs across borders for money.

Correa has acknowledged that his father, who died when Correa was 9, was jailed for three years in the United States for carrying drugs.

Ecuador produces virtually no coca, the key ingredient in cocaine, but is often used as a transit country for drugs sent from neighboring Colombia and Peru - the world's top two cocaine producers - to the United States.

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