In 1991, Ecuadorian President Rodrigo Borja Ceballos famously called Ecuador the world's “island of peace.” These words were repeated ten years later by President Gustavo Novoa Bejarano in his 2002 report to the nation. But today, they have completely lost their meaning and, alarmingly, their meaning has been lost.
Ecuador has unexpectedly become one of the most violent countries in the world and has been described as a country “under stress” by the United Nations.
The country ranks alongside Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as the 11th most violent country in the world, according to research by the independent Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.
Additionally, Ecuador ranks 96th out of 146 countries (regional It is ranked 23rd out of 32 countries. order and safety, regulatory compliance, civil and criminal justice.
Just five years ago, Ecuador was still considered one of the safest countries in Latin America, with a violent death rate of 6.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. The death toll is now approaching 45.
Earlier this month, President Daniel Novoa declared a state of emergency with a nationwide curfew following the escape of Los Choneros, the top leader of the most important criminal organization. This resulted in explosive attacks and kidnappings by criminal groups, and the arrest of members of the security forces and prison staff.
This was a clear indication of the level of firepower that criminal organizations could use against state security forces. And it is now clear that this violence is becoming less of an isolated incident and more of a war between criminal groups and states over control of territory and population.
Read more: How Ecuador went from a stable model in Latin America to a country in crisis
The economics of drug trafficking drive crime
Drug trafficking is the most significant cause of increased violence and insecurity in Ecuador. And not just cocaine, but also heroin and, more recently, the destructive synthetic drug fentanyl.
This is due to several factors.
The country's location is adjacent to the world's largest producer of cocaine.
Dollarized economy attractive for money laundering
There are limits to the state's ability to monitor various domestic and international air, sea, and land drug transportation routes.
Structural causes of unemployment, rising inequality, lack of development, etc.
and the strong influence of the media, especially social networks, on young people who are increasingly seduced by the culture of drug trafficking and the temptations of leadership, power and easy money.
Local drug lords also have strategic alliances with transnational drug trafficking cartels. In addition to providing economic benefits, these connections resulted in:
Specialization in criminal market management in Ecuador
Increased professionalism in criminal operations (detention, extortion, money laundering, illegal mining, etc.)
Improving the training of hitmen, explosives experts, criminal intelligence and counterintelligence experts
Aiming for more effective communication among guerrillas across the country through graffiti art and other means.
Prison system crisis
Another important underlying factor is that the central government's budget for reforming the country's prison system was cut several years ago.
This led to layoffs of prison staff and reductions in judicial sector officers. In fact, under former President Lenin Moreno's government, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Religious Affairs was abolished and the Human Rights Secretariat and the National Office for the Caution of Persons Deprived of Liberty (which ran the correctional system) were created. .
All this has led to a lack of clarity in the management of serious prison problems and increased overcrowding in the country's 34 detention centers. As a result, prisons have become strategic hubs for drug gangs and plagued by crime and violence. There have been 11 prison massacres in the past three years, leaving 412 people dead across Ecuador.
Prisons also contribute to criminal activity on the streets. Live internet broadcasts of atrocities, including mutilations and decapitations, limbless bodies and vital organs exposed on bridges and other public places, have become commonplace.
In fact, the expression “It's safer to live in prison than on the streets'' is becoming increasingly popular in this country.
When it comes to this type of violence, local mafia groups have learned from the practices of Colombian and Mexican cartels.
The most brutal acts of violence have come from groups affiliated with the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, formerly known as Mata Setas. The group has military training (some of its members are from the United States), and its practices are based on religious and cultural beliefs such as cannibalism and the cult of Santa Muerte, which lead to their gruesome acts of violence. is affecting.
Read more: Inside Mexico's drug war: A conversation with 'El Narco'
After former President Guillermo Lasso signed a new executive order in April making it easier for civilians to carry and use weapons, attacks by criminal organizations, particularly assassinations by hitmen with military-style weapons purchased on the illegal market, increased. .
Surprisingly, the existence of the four notorious schools of hired killers in the cities of Duran, Manta, Lago Agrio and Esmeraldas has not been formally condemned by the government.
According to information from police sources, these schools train junior, intermediate, and senior assassins, and their salaries range from 1 to 10 depending on their experience, including number of assassinations, strict compliance with orders, and importance of the target. Varies between $200 and $10,000 per person. Month.
The training of these assassins does not necessarily take place in person, but virtually through video games aimed at helping recruits lose fear and remorse. This is important psychological preparation for young people who, due to poverty, unemployment, and lack of learning opportunities, are easily scouted as assassins for various mafia groups.
Gangs have increasingly powerful mechanisms to coerce people living in some of the country's most economically disadvantaged regions (through intimidation or economic necessity) into joining the criminal underworld.
drug state under construction
Criminal groups are increasingly able to exert influence over local governments, municipalities, and mayor's offices to conceal their criminal activities in pseudo-legal ways and further their strategic goal of ultimately turning Ecuador into a drug state. It is now possible to do so.
And it is the Ecuadorian people who are paying the price. Brutal murders, kidnappings, and other acts of violence have forced them to change their daily lives or live in complete isolation.
An atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust is creeping into society, exacerbated by traditional and social media outlets that continue to operate without true journalistic ethics or social responsibility.