Insecurity in Ecuador locks up citizens at home and takes the military to the streets | International

Arms control in the streets of Guayaquil, at the end of January.
Arms control in the streets of Guayaquil, at the end of January.VICENTE GAIBOR DEL PINO (REUTERS)

Fear is rampant in Guayaquil. Crime in the economic capital of Ecuador has reached such a level that it has locked up citizens in their homes. The country began the year with a record of 329 murders counted until February 4, which left far behind the already exaggerated number of violent deaths in 2021. Guayaquil concentrates a third of those deaths. Last year already closed with twice as many homicides as 2020 -2,464 until December 30- and in January there were 122, a much lower figure than that registered this year.

The deaths come in groups, as happened in some soccer fields in the south of Guayaquil, when five people were riddled with bullets in an alleged confrontation between gangs at nine o’clock at night. But they also happen in tourist areas, as happened to a Dutch visitor who was killed for trying to rob him on the iconic steps of Las Peñas. Another man was executed as a hit man while dining in a crowded restaurant in the north of the city. And a delivery man who got lost in a marginal neighborhood ended up dead in an assault to take away the motorcycle with which he worked. All this in the month of January.

The official reaction has been to reinforce the presence of security forces in the streets and associate the situation with international drug trafficking. Last October, the Government decreed a state of emergency and mobilized the military in the streets, but the wave of violence did not subside. “We will be ready to respond to any reaction from organized crime groups,” Government Minister Alexandra Vela warned last Friday, reporting at a press conference on the arrest of ten members of the Los Lobos gang, which according to the Police, is one of those who dispute the control of the drug route within the country. “A coup of this nature can have effects in several places and increase violence,” predicted the minister, who considers that a “war” is being waged between the State, society and criminal gangs.

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The disturbance in the tranquility of the people is so palpable that the main avenues of the center of Guayaquil remain deserted when work activity falls and commercial businesses lament the lack of clients, also affected by the restrictions of the covid-19 pandemic. 19.

The root of the outbreak of insecurity is that Ecuador is today, according to the government explanation, the exit point for international drug trafficking to the United States and Europe due to the porosity of the land borders with Colombia and Peru. And that has repercussions on urban violence, but also on recurring clashes between gangs inside the country’s prisons and on the record numbers of seizures. Until January 26, more than 15 tons have been detected, triple that of a year ago. In all of 2021, they reached 210 tons, almost double the previous year. At the same time, there were more than 300 prisoners killed in at least five outbreaks of violence within the prison system.

These “achievements,” declared Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso of the seizures, “have consequences such as the increase in violent deaths in the streets as has happened in January.” For this reason, he justified the deployment of soldiers in patrol tasks together with 1,100 police officers. He did not specify the number of soldiers who would walk the streets of the country, but he also promised to deliver nine million dollars to equip the Police with cars, motorcycles and weapons. Days later, Lasso acknowledged that the fight against drug trafficking was not an “easy fight” and that it would be irresponsible to give a date on when the battle would end and tranquility would return to the country.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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