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.
On 8 and 9 August, the presidents of eight countries will meet in Brazil to discuss means of countering the threats facing the Amazon rainforest. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Bram Ebus explains that inter-governmental cooperation and a regional security strategy will be essential.
Spate of political assassinations in lead-up to elections prompted President Lasso to declare nationwide state of emergency; first-round voting in poll failed to produce clear winner.
Gunmen shot dead prominent electoral candidate. Ahead of presidential poll on 20 Aug, gunmen 9 Aug killed Construye party candidate Fernando Villavicencio and injured nine others at campaign rally in capital Quito. Security forces shot dead one suspect and arrested six others – all Colombian nationals. Villavicencio had advocated for tough approaches to drug trafficking, corruption and other illicit activity, as well as alleged links between politicians and organised crime. President Lasso same day declared 60-day national emergency. Govt 12 Aug deployed 4,000 armed guards to Prison 8 in Guayaquil city and transferred Jose Adolfo Macias, head of Los Choneros gang, to maximum security prison; Villavicencio had previously mentioned receiving threats from Macias. Just five days after Villavicencio’s murder, gunmen 14 Aug shot dead local leader of left-wing Citizen Revolution Movement Pedro Briones near his home in Esmeraldas province.
Election produced no clear winner, leading to runoff in Oct. Ecuadoreans 20 Aug cast their ballots in poll overshadowed by Villavicencio’s assassination. Voters chose among eight presidential candidates, all of whom named security as their top priority. With no candidate able to secure absolute majority, Citizen Revolution Movement candidate Luisa González will face businessman Daniel Noboa in Oct runoff.
Inmates took dozens of law enforcement officers hostage. Authorities 31 Aug announced over 50 law enforcement officers had been taken captive by inmates from six prisons; hostage-taking followed explosion of two car bombs in capital Quito 30-31 Aug reportedly targeting country’s prisons authority; authorities said actions may be in response to recent security measures inside penitentiaries.
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.
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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