Violence and insecurity does not give up in Ecuador. Robberies, murders, kidnappings, extortion and other crimes are common daily in the streets of the South American country; as well as the confrontations in the prisons.
This week began with the assassination, on Monday, of political leader Pedro Briones, of the leftist Revolucion Ciudadana party, after being shot twice in the park of the San Mateo parish in the city of Esmeraldas.
The same day there were protests at the Litoral Penitentiary and the Guayaquil Regional Prison, for the transfer to another prison of Jose Adolfo Macias Villamar, alias ‘Fito’, leader of the criminal group ‘Los Choneros’.
On Tuesday there was a bomb threat at the Terminal Terrestre in the city of Guayaquil. The Police managed to carry out a controlled detonation of the artifacts found.
The figures that the violence has left behind are compelling. In 2022, the South American country experienced its most violent year, with 4,823 intentional homicides in the 12 months. That meant a rate of 26.68 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data confirmed by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC), cited by the newspaper Expreso.
Compared to the previous year, violent deaths doubled last year, since in 2021 the homicide rate was 13.89 per 100,000 inhabitants, as revealed last May by the National Police.
But this 2023 is shaping up to be even more violent than 2022. According to information from the National Police and the Ministry of the Interior, between January 1 and July 2 of this year, Ecuador registered 3,568 intentional homicides. If the trend continues, the country could close this year with a rate of close to 40 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
This is the scenario at the gates of the anticipated presidential and legislative elections, which will be held next Sunday, August 20, and which were called after the country’s president, Guillermo Lasso, decreed cross death and dissolved the National Assembly in May past.
On the way to the elections, politicians have not escaped violence. Prior to the murder of Briones, on Wednesday, August 9, he was assassinated, leaving a campaign rally, the Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, from the Construye movement, which is led by former minister Maria Paula Romo. Given this, the party proposed journalist Christian Zurita Ron as his replacement.
Two days before the crime in Villavicencio, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Diana Atamaint, denounced that the entity’s authorities had received threats against her integrity.
On July 23, the mayor of the city of Manta, in the coastal province of Manabi, Agustin Intriago, was assassinated. The previous week they also killed Rider Sanchez, who was a candidate for the National Assembly for the political alliance Actuemos.
A similar situation was experienced prior to the local elections last February, when several candidates suffered attacks and some of them were assassinated. Among those who lost their lives were Omar Menendez, who was seeking the mayoralty of the Puerto Lopez canton, in the province of Manabi; and Julio Cesar Farachio, who was going through the municipality of Salinas, in Santa Elena.
Decline in the ‘ranking’
The situation that the South American country is currently experiencing has been classified by the former president of Colombia and former secretary general of the Union of South American Nations, Ernesto Samper, as the “Colombianization” of Ecuador, because “the same problems” are reproduced that the neighboring country experienced in the 1980s.
But he also points out, in an opinion article published in El Pais, that it is also similar to what happened in Mexico a few years later. His comparison is given regarding the assassination of Villavicencio, which is similar to the one that occurred against the former Colombian presidential candidate. Luis Carlos Galan, on August 18, 1989; and that of the candidate for the Presidency of Mexico Luis Donaldo Colosioon March 23, 1994.
But when did this wave of violence that is plaguing Ecuador today begin? In 2017, when Rafael Correa handed over the Presidency to his successor, Lenin Moreno, the nation had a totally different picture. That year, he held the 57th position worldwide (out of 163 countries) and fifth in Latin America and the Caribbeanonly surpassed by Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Panama, in the Global Peace Index, an indicator that measures the level of peace and the absence of violence in a country, prepared by the Institute for Economics and Peace, based in Sydney and offices in New York, Mexico City and The Hague.
In 2023, the country descended to 97th place in that ranking globally and 11th among its neighbors Latin America and the Caribbean, behind Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Panama, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.
According to a World Bank (WB) database, in 2017 the country had a rate of 6 intentional homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. “We were a reference, Ecuador was known as an island of peace“, commented the former president, in an interview with RT last week.
In 2018, according to the same data from the World Bank, it remained at six murders per 100,000 inhabitants, in 2019 it rose to 7, in 2020 to 8 and in 2021, the year in which Guillermo Lasso assumed the Presidency, it reached 14 (or 13 .89 according to the National Police). The increase continued these last two years.
Even the US has downgraded the country in travel advisories to its citizens. In January 2018, the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador celebrated that the North American country placed the Ecuadorian territory at “Level 1”, which would be the most secure or with which they invite travelers to “exercise normal precautions”; however, it is currently at “Level 2”, that is, it calls for “exercising greater caution”.
“Crime is a widespread problem in Ecuador. Violent crime, such as murders, assaults, kidnappings and armed robberies are frequent and widespread. The rate of violent crimes is significantly higher in areas where transnational criminal organizations are concentrated,” says the notice from the State Department, in which they ask Americans not to travel to some parts of the country, such as the south of Guayaquil; the cities of Huaquillas and Arenillas, in the province of El Oro, Quevedo, Quinsaloma and Pueblo Viejo, in Los Rios, and several areas of Esmeraldas.
For Correa, there are several factors that have contributed to the increase in violence in his country. “they dismantled everything, they said it was (an) obese state. They eliminated the Ministry of Security Coordination, they eliminated the Ministry of Justice, in charge of prisons, now the prisons are under the control of the mafias, they eliminated the Ministry of the Interior [que luego fue restituido]in charge of citizen security and police control”, among other actions, listed the former president.
Likewise, it was of the opinion that adequate measures were not taken against organized crime, which “has now infiltrated the State”. “It is clear that there is infiltration in the government, in the public forces, and we see unprecedented levels of violence,” she emphasized.
“Precautions were not taken either, for example, when there was a mutation in the cocaine business, there was no longer a market for fentanyl in the US —which is killing Americans, a much more powerful, much cheaper drug— , and they began to send more cocaine to Europe and the transit territory is Ecuador, that was known and they did absolutely nothing,” explained the former president.
For Samper, who in his article is in tune with the ex-president’s comments, “the bad governments after Correa, coinciding with the internationalization of the Mexican drug cartels that also arrived in Colombia, they left the way clear for the disembarkation of these criminal organizations“, which have brought corruption and violence derived from drug trafficking.
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