Published: 10:51, April 18, 2024
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Ecuador grapples with fresh violence
By Jimena Esteban in Buenos Aires, Argentina
A security personnel stands guard outside the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Quito, Ecuador, April 16, 2024. (PHOTO / REUTERS)

Ecuador is once again facing a spike in violence after trying unsuccessfully to clamp down on violent crimes.

The challenges were highlighted during the Easter weekend in late March and early April when 80 violent deaths were recorded in just three days. The spate of violence highlights the daunting task facing President Daniel Noboa, whose efforts to combat violence, including emergency decrees and declaration of an internal armed conflict, have proved inadequate.

"The situation in Ecuador has once again captured international headlines in a negative light," Luis Cordova, a political analyst in Ecuador, said.

Following the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio in August, the country has been facing a series of criminal acts, including the armed assault on a television channel in the second-largest city of Guayaquil on Jan 9, he said.

Ecuador has been under a state of emergency since January, after 201 crimes were recorded in the first seven days of the year.

Following the latest violence, Noboa vowed to double down on his efforts. "We will never give in to delinquency and organized crime… I am not going to stop," he said.

2023 was the most violent year in the country's history, Cordova said. There were some 7,878 violent crimes reported but only 584 were solved. The homicide rate rose to 46 per 100,000 people.

"Ecuador became the most violent country in Latin America," Cordova said.

Against organized crime

Despite some initial setbacks, the Noboa administration managed to put together a coalition and undertook operations against organized crime, but criminal violence persisted, exacerbated by the escape of Jose Adolfo Macias, alias "Fito", leader of Los Choneros, one of the country's most dangerous criminal organizations, Cordova said.

Fito escaped from prison earlier this year amid violence in the country's prisons.

Experts said the violence will continue until the underlying issues are resolved and practical fixes put in place.

The first problem is "there is no comprehensive security policy outside of the military and police", said Jean Paul Pinto, a security expert in Ecuador who has worked with police and the nation's intelligence agency.

"There are no other heterogeneous views on security involving the intervention of other ministries or certain aspects of education, social inclusion, and participation of autonomous decentralized governments, the private sector and municipalities," Pinto said.

The failure to meet people's basic needs, education and employment, particularly in border areas, has "created a breeding ground for criminal groups that easily recruit children as young as 8 or 10 years old", Pinto said.

"The problems are foundational. How to get the youths out of criminality, give them opportunities they've never had, so they don't become part of criminal groups."

Adding to the challenges are territorial disputes between criminal gangs. These are groups that often reach into Ecuador from other countries and fight for territory.

"A lot of drugs pass through Ecuador due to its geographic location. So, (the gangs) try to gain territories to accumulate more profits," Pinto said, adding that until drug trafficking is addressed, the violence will "continue endlessly".

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.