President Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador has declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Guayas, Manabí and Esmeraldas, due to increased crime in the region. Citing the impact of drug trafficking gangs, he announced the imposition of a curfew and sent 9,000 police and soldiers to coastal provinces in a bid to enforce peace and order. Since taking office in 2021, the action means President Lasso has now twice used emergency powers over violence, after a spike in deadly gang-related violence in late 2021 prompted similar action. .
In a video posted online, Lasso explained his actions, saying “We are protecting life in every decision we make, in every corner of our country until all who are violent have surrendered.” He also tweeted that “the streets will feel the weight of our public forces”. Talk to Reuters Commenting on Ecuador’s rising crime rate, and citing budget cuts and judges’ desire to free criminals quickly, Luis Cordova of Universidad Central said, “The judiciary and the ability to ensure that the laws are respected and that people cannot go unpunished have deteriorated” and that “it is obvious that the justice system has a huge joint responsibility in this situation”.
Even if the new measures announced by President Lasso stabilize the situation, they will at best prove to be a short-term solution. Increased militarization and the imposition of stricter measures does not provide a long-term strategy or solve the underlying problems. Prison violence is symptomatic of a broader problem within the justice system, where underinvestment and corruption have hampered attempts to control gangs. In addition, the transnational nature of the drug trade and criminal networks complicates law enforcement. Any solution requires not only the action of the Ecuadorian government, but also the cooperation of regional partners and international bodies, which makes resolving the problem all the more difficult.
It is clear that gang violence is a growing problem in Ecuador. Previously a model for the region, with crime rates plummeting between 2010 and 2018, recent years have seen a resurgence in crime. The murder rate of 14 murders per 100,000 population in 2021 was nearly double that of 2020, as Ecuador saw its homicide rate rise faster than any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Because of its location between Colombia and Peru, two major cocaine producers, Ecuador is a transit route for the drug, meaning violence is centered around coastal areas like the port of Guayaquil, where January and March 2022, nearly 300 homicides were reported. 2021 has also seen prison violence between gangs become a major problem, with three prison massacres during the year claiming the lives of more than 200 people.
It remains to be seen whether or not the measures imposed by President Lasso will be effective in reducing violent crime along the coast. Either way, the dimming of what was once a bright light for crime prevention represents a troubling trend for the region, and simply escalating militarization indefinitely is not a viable solution. It is only through long-term investment, reform of the criminal justice system and cooperation with relevant international partners that Ecuador can work to reduce gang violence and regain its position of success. Latin American.