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

Govt declared terrorism a security threat amid surge of gang violence, enabling military deployment to confront these groups without instituting state of exception.

Govt implemented new measures to tackle rising criminal gang violence. Around 30 gunmen 11 April entered port of Esmeraldas city, opening fire and killing nine fishermen; Interior Minister Juan Zapata next day said attack was likely in retaliation for fishermen paying “protection money” to rival gang. In port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s murder capital, armed attack 30 April killed ten people; National Police Commander William Villaroel said authorities “believe that this has to do with a struggle between organised criminal groups over the fight for territorial control”. Authorities 28 April declared terrorism a threat to Ecuador’s security, enabling military to launch special operations to confront organised crime groups without declaring state of exception.

Spate of violent incidents occurred in Guayaquil prison. In latest wave of gang violence also plaguing Ecuador’s jails, prison guards 12 April found six inmates hanged in Litoral penitentiary, located in Guayaquil. One day later, four assailants killed three prison guards during hit-and-run operation. Clashes between incarcerated gang members 14 April killed 12 and wounded three. President Lasso 25 April appointed new national security adviser and replaced secretary of public and state security.

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