With its lengthy coastline and proximity to coca-producing areas, Ecuador is the latest Latin American country to become a hub of drug trafficking plagued by rising violent crime. Murder rates have climbed over the last half-decade, and the country has recorded more homicides in 2022 than in any previous year. Successive presidents have tried to curb the trend, some with aggressive policing and others with a mix of security and socio-economic reform policies aimed at dimming the allure of illicit livelihoods. Through advocacy and periodic reporting, Crisis Group works to promote the latter approach to crime prevention, which has a better record of reducing violence throughout the region.


CrisisWatch Ecuador

Deteriorated Situation

President Noboa declared first-ever “internal armed conflict” in country’s history after criminal groups unleashed wave of violence in prisons and cities nationwide. 

Violence spiked following disappearance of crime boss. Police in Guayaquil city 7 Jan reported disappearance of Adolfo ‘Fito’ Macías, imprisoned boss of Los Choneros gang, who was due for transfer to high-security jail. As authorities commenced hunt involving 3,000 police and army officers, rival criminal factions capitalised on chaos. Prison riots erupted across country, with inmates from seven prisons taking 178 staff hostage, while at least 30 prisoners 9 Jan escaped from Riobamba facility, including leader of “Los Lobos” group Fabricio Colón Pico, who authorities 5 Jan arrested over kidnapping and alleged plot to murder Attorney General Diana Salazar. Meanwhile, violence escalated mostly in capital Quito and Guayaquil as criminal groups looted stores and detonated explosives; gunmen 9 Jan stormed television studio in Guayaquil during live broadcast, though police quickly regained control. Gang members 21 Jan attempted to take over hospital in Yaguachi town (Guayas province) where one of their members was receiving treatment; police same day arrested 68 suspects involved. Over 200 violent deaths reported since 9 Jan, including prosecutor leading investigation into television studio attack. 

President Noboa declared first-ever “internal armed conflict”. Noboa 8 Jan declared 60-day state of emergency, facilitating military and police interventions in prisons nationwide. But amid spiralling violence and worldwide media coverage of television studio raid, Noboa 9 Jan declared Ecuador’s first ever “internal armed conflict” and announced use of lethal force and military assets to combat 22 criminal groups, now labelled terrorists. Move raised fears that intensified security operations could prompt violent backlash from criminal groups. 

International partners offered support to embattled nation. Peru 9 Jan and Colombia 10 Jan bolstered troop presence along border, while around 40 countries offered military assistance to Quito, including Argentina, U.S. and Brazil. U.S. 11 Jan announced it would send officials to assist Ecuador with criminal investigations. Govt 21 Jan signed security cooperation agreement with fellow members of regional bloc Andean Community, aimed at tackling transnational criminal networks.

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In The News

18 jan 2024
Political misrule in Ecuador paled in comparison to what you saw … in Peru, and now Ecuador seems far worse off than Peru and Colombia in terms of basic human security. Miami Herald

Ivan Briscoe

Program Director, Latin America and Caribbean

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