Violence has once again stained the streets and prisons of Ecuador red.
In just three days, the South American country has seen a spate of violence that has killed more than 30 people, including a prominent mayor.
The situation has clouded the start of presidential and legislative election campaigns scheduled for August 20 and forced President Guillermo Lasso to issue a new state of emergency decree that has been in place since May 2021. Sixteenth state of emergency. prison system.
Likewise, the president has imposed nighttime curfews in two provinces in the west of the country and a municipality in the third region.
Here are three keys to understanding what’s going on.
3 days of violence
The wave of violence began over the weekend. The nation was shocked on Sunday by the murder of Manta’s mayor, Agustín Intriago, one of the most popular, who was shot dead while touring a construction site.
The athlete Ariana Estefanía Chancay, who sought help from officials, was also killed in what authorities called an attack.
The politician’s assassination was part of other events in recent months.A week earlier, Rinder Sánchez, a candidate for representation in the also conflicted Esmeraldas province, was shot dead when four subjects tried to steal his car In February, two aspiring mayors were killed in separate attacks.
Intriago’s death coincided with a new wave of violence in Ecuadorian prisons. A standoff broke out between inmates at the Guayas No. 1 Center for Deprivation of Liberty in Guayaquil, the second most populous city and home to Ecuador’s largest port, on Saturday.
Authorities deployed 2,700 police and military personnel to restore order and stop unrest Incident that resulted in 31 deathsAccording to data provided by the Prosecutor’s Office.
During these missions, uniformed officers seized an arsenal of long-range rifles, grenade launchers, ammunition and explosives, the armed forces reported on their Twitter account.
Hours later, prisoners in 13 of the country’s 35 prisons began hunger strikes, They keep about 100 custodians.
Russo’s reaction was swift, and he promulgated a new state of exception. While the measure helped end hunger strikes, many in the country doubt it will succeed in ending recurring violence in prisons. 400 deaths since 2021According to groups such as Human Rights Watch.
Most importantly, in some towns attack and explosion Against commercial establishments, private cars and public transport.Some of the actions the authorities are considering are Criminal Group Response to State of Emergency.
The claws of drug dealers
Ecuador’s western provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayaquil and Manta were once again the main sites of violence in recent days.
because? Major ports in the country havewhich is highly coveted infrastructure by criminals, especially drug dealers.
“Ecuador’s main problems related to the geopolitics of drug trafficking are due to its territorial location adjacent to Colombia and Peru, the world’s major cocaine producing countries, and weak comprehensive border controls that facilitate the entry of the drug. It is subsequently transported to strategic points along the coast and in Guayaquil ’,” the Ecuadorian National Police admitted in a report released in July.
In the same report, the security agency acknowledged The state has little control over sea and air territory It is convenient for planes and ships to depart from the port terminal with almost no inspection.
The above conditions favor the formation of national criminal organizations and the arrival of other international criminal organizations, and the statistics seem to confirm this. The amount of drugs seized in the South American country has nearly tripled to 201 tons since 2019, compared with 79.5 tons four years ago, the report said.
Another sign is the soaring homicide rate.Homicides rose to 4,761 last year from 1,088 in 2019, authorities insist 80% of deaths are related to drug trafficking.
However, some recent figures provided by the police have cast doubt on this claim. The group assured that 3,568 people were murdered in the first half of 2023, 79% of them they have no criminal record.
However, Interior Minister Juan Zapata has stuck to the official argument in recent months and has made another one: the increase in the seriousness of crime.
“Now it is no longer a person who chooses to die. There are many incidents now, They don’t mind filming in restaurants’ the official said last January.
Despite the dire situation, Zapata denies that the entire country is in the grip of organized crime. “Violent deaths are geographically localized. There are 24 provinces in Ecuador, and the problem lies in five provinces, the drug smuggling routes,” he explained.
Some of the claims have been disputed by Ecuadorian journalist Carolina Meera, who lives in Guayaquil. “Violence has begun to spread across the country. On the coast, this is because drug trafficking requires ports, but in the mountains, it is because even in Quito, there are storage points,” he explained.
The War on Drugs and Prison Overcrowding
Ecuador’s government blames the current rampant crime not only on criminal organizations, especially drug traffickers, but also on previous governments’ reduced investment in security.To this end, Minister Zapata has set himself the goal of Increase the number of police officers to 82,000 by 2024.
However, some people think this recipe is incorrect.
“In Ecuador, we’re in a war on drugs (We have a government) aiming to put more police and troops on the streets, but doing nothing to reduce money laundering,” analyst Luis Carlos Cordoba complained in an interview with BBC Mundo.
“Playing a game of cat and mouse, hunting down gang members, while diverting to safety a vast amount of resources that should be spent on social investment, (the government) Does not help break the economic fabric of organized crime“, denounced a researcher at the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence at the Central University of Quito.
Córdoba believes that the government should focus more resources on education, especially on combating school dropouts, thus preventing Teenager quitting a criminal organization.
He also advocated tighter controls on police forces and the military to combat their possible ties to criminals.
As for the prison crisis, President Russo said in signing the emergency decree that he believed the measure would help “subdue criminals with greater strength” both inside and outside prisons. His opponents do not share the optimism.
“There is no exception statute for this issue. We go from one statute to another. We’ve gone through 16 decrees. What problem did they solve?absolutely notsaid presidential candidate Luisa Gonzalez, who was close to former President Rafael Correa.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on Ecuadorian authorities to address prison overcrowding as it encouraged Emergence of Violence and Illegal Activity Such as organized gangs extorting prisoners.
As of 2022, there are 36,599 people in Ecuadorian prisons, although the prison can only hold 30,169 people. The IACHR condemned in a report that the four centers were 95% overcrowded.
In conclusion, Córdoba does not rule out that the events of the past few hours have brought insecurity back to the top of the agenda of the presidential candidates, from which those who support the “bukelistas” argument will benefit.
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