AMERICA/ECUADOR - From "island of peace" to one of the most violent countries in the world

Saturday, 20 January 2024 drug trade   criminality   military   violence  

Quito (Agenzia Fides) - From "island of peace" to the eleventh most violent country in the world, on a par with Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, according to President Daniel Noboa who on January 9th spoke of an “internal armed conflict” (see Fides 10/1/2024). As of 2019, Ecuador had a rate of 6.7 violent deaths per hundred thousand inhabitants. Today it stands at 45 deaths due to violence per 100,000 inhabitants. Drug trafficking is the main cause of the country's descent into the hell of violence perpetrated by criminal gangs fighting each other and the State. Sandwiched between the two major cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador, thanks to its road infrastructure and the port of Guayaquil has become an important transit hub for Colombian and Peruvian cocaine destined for international markets, particularly North American and European ones. In addition to cocaine trafficking, trafficking in heroin and fentanyl is also on the rise. According to some studies, there have been violent clashes between gangs over control of the export of bananas (of which Ecuador is the largest exporter in the world) from the port of Guayaquil, used for drug smuggling (see Fides, 6/9/2023).
In addition, a dollar-based economy makes it easier for criminal organizations to trade and launder money; the weak tools available to the state to control the legal flows in and out of the country that conceal drug shipments; a society with unequal and non-inclusive development with high unemployment rates and "illicit work"; the effects of social media, through which the false values of drug traffickers are conveyed, on young people with no prospects. The reduction in the government's budget for the renovation of the prison system, decided a few years ago, was exacerbated in 2020 by the pandemic, leading to the dismissal of prison officers and the abolition of directorates in the justice sector. This has led to the increasingly overcrowded 34 prisons also being taken over by Ecuadorian criminal gangs structured according to models imported from abroad. The arrival of international drug trafficking organizations of Colombian, Mexican, Brazilian, Italian and Balkan (Albanian) origin has led to the formation of criminal gangs based on their example, which recruit themselves from the poor population and at the same time buy the favor of state officials with dollars. It is no coincidence that the crisis that broke out at the beginning of January this year was preceded a few months earlier by the launch of the anti-corruption campaign "Metastasis", in which the prosecutor César Suárez, who was assassinated on January 17, also participated (see Fides 18/ 1/2024), on the eve of an operation decided by President Daniel Noboa to regain control of the prisons. The importation of foreign criminal models, particularly Colombian and Mexican ones (Santa Muerte cult), also has a parareligious dimension, expressed in the macabre rituals of some heinous murders broadcast live on social networks (dismemberments, decapitated corpses or corpses without limbs and vital organs displayed outdoors). There is now the prospect of a slow resumption of control by the State, also with the help of other countries. However, the category of "internal armed conflict" used by President Noboa to describe the situation and the resulting state response is reminiscent of the concept of "internal war" (typical of the previous national security doctrine), which leads to a militarization of society and a weakening of democracy. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 20/1/2024)