Ecuador is grappling with an escalating security crisis marked by rampant gang warfare, violent assassinations, and a surge in prison violence. Once considered a relatively peaceful nation, Ecuador is now witnessing a brutal turf war between criminal organizations, particularly on its Pacific coast, where they vie for control over drug trafficking routes. Amidst the worsening violence, the government’s response has been to purchase millions of gun cartridges to bolster security services. However, with prisons falling under the control of criminal gangs and hundreds of inmates on hunger strike, the country’s peace and stability are in jeopardy.
Gangs and Drug Trafficking:
Ecuador’s strategic location with several ports handling various exports has made it an ideal departure point for drug trafficking, particularly cocaine from neighboring countries like Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. Foreign syndicates, including Mexican cartels, Brazilian gangs, and Albanian mafia cells, have co-opted local criminal organizations to facilitate illicit trafficking. The country’s economy’s dollarization has also facilitated money laundering for criminal groups.
Economic Insecurity and Recruitment:
The economic insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for the informal workforce, has driven some Ecuadorians towards criminal activities. The lack of formal contracts and social benefits during lockdowns created opportunities for criminal recruiters. Moreover, corruption allegations within the security and justice system have further undermined trust in the authorities.
President Lasso has declared several states of emergency in response to the escalating violence. In June, he authorized security personnel to use lethal force in anti-gang operations and declared criminal gangs as terrorist organizations. Ecuadorian forces have undergone special drills to confront the violence, but the crisis persists despite their efforts.
Political Turmoil and Elections:
The country’s government is facing political turmoil, with President Lasso dissolving the opposition-led Congress and calling for snap general elections on August 20. The leading candidates, including Luisa Gonzalez, Otto Sonnenholzner, and Yaku Perez, have pledged to address the violence. However, amid political deadlock and escalating violence, the path to peace remains uncertain for Ecuador.
Ecuador’s security crisis, characterized by gang warfare, prison violence, and escalating criminal activities, poses significant challenges to the nation’s stability and reputation as a relatively peaceful country. The government’s response with states of emergency and increased security measures shows the severity of the situation. However, a sustainable resolution will require a comprehensive and coordinated effort from the government, security forces, and society at large to address the root causes of the violence and restore peace to the nation.