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.
Ecuador’s proximity to major cocaine producers, dollarised economy and corruptible state institutions, as well as COVID-19’s devastating impact, have turned the country into Latin America’s latest hotbed of drug trafficking and other violent crime.
Gang violence surged in coastal cities following mass prison transfers, prompting President Lasso to declare state of emergency in three provinces.
Criminal violence spiked across several cities, triggering state of emergency. Following transfer of 1,002 inmates from Guayaquil’s Guayas prison to other detention facilities controlled by rival gangs, criminal gangs 1 Nov launched at least 18 attacks, half of them in coastal cities of Guayaquil and Esmeraldas, leaving five police officers and one civilian dead. President Guillermo Lasso same day called incidents “a declaration of open war” and imposed state of emergency in Guayas and Esmeraldas provinces, 4 Nov extended measure to Santa Domingo de los Tsáchilas province. Police 2 Nov arrested 28 people while Defence Minister Luis Lara same day announced deployment of 1,400 soldiers to Guayaquil. According to Interior Minister Juan Zapata, police 1-15 Nov captured 2,878 suspects.
Deadly prison clashes between rival gangs continued. Amid threat of mass prisoner transfer disrupting gang control within prisons, fighting 2 Nov broke out at Guayas prison, leaving two dead and six injured; inmates from Esmeraldas prison in Esmeraldas province 1 Nov also kidnapped and then released eight prison officers. In capital Quito’s El Inca prison, violent confrontation between rival criminal groups Los Lobos and Las Ñetas 7 Nov left five inmates dead; hours later, President Lasso announced security forces had regained control of prison. In other incident at El Inca prison, at least ten inmates 18 Nov died during violent riots that broke out after authorities moved two gang leaders – “Bermudez” from Los Lobos and “Anchundia” from R7 – to maximum security facility. Authorities 28 Nov nearly doubled number of prison guards, announcing 1,461 new personnel.
Ecuador has been Latin America’s most unstable democracy for a decade. Starting with the ousting of President Abdalá Bucaram by Congress and street protests in 1997, weak, temporary governments have been the rule.
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