Organised crime is attempting to take control over Ecuador, a small country in South America that shares borders with Colombia in the north and Peru in the South. What was once considered a peaceful country has now become an attractive base for drug manufacturing and distribution by Mexican and Colombian cartels.
Guayaquil, the coastal base for everything related to do with drugs in Ecuador, is now ranked as the 24th most dangerous city in the world.
“We live in constant fear. Every day, when we go to work, we don’t know if we will return or if we will come back in one piece” - Roberto Medina
Between 2022 and 2023, there was an exponential growth in the homicide rate in the country. 2023 became the most violent year in the country, as a person was killed every 69 minutes as a result of criminal violence.
According to Statista, the number of deaths due to violence in the country has almost doubled, going from 4,603 to more than 7,592 deaths.
This same year (2023), on the 9th of August, Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was murdered as he left a campaign event. This created a domino effect that plunged the country into a loss of total control, where the government lost all power and civilians felt unsafe and unprotected.
All this data suggests that 20204 could be significantly worse, as the security situation in the country just escalated to new levels at the beginning of this year.
The situation has continued to escalate, threatening the control of the state itself over the territory and public institutions, which is precisely the reason the newly elected president, Daniel Noboa, has had to declare an internal state of war against drugs.
A state of emergency has been put into place, allowing the army to take control of the streets and the jails. A curfew has even been imposed, among other measures, and within the first 24 hours, the Ecuadorian army arrested 329 “terrorists”.
Ecuador declared this war against drugs after one of the leaders of the country's main criminal groups escaped from prison.
Adolfo Macias, alias "El Fito." is the leader of 'Los Choneros', which is a criminal group that is associated with the 'Sinaloa' cartel group in Mexico. On Sunday, the 7th of January, “Fito” escaped from the ‘Litoral Penitentiary in Guayaquil’, where he had been locked up for 13 years, serving a long sentence of 34 years.
His release from prison unleashed chaos across the country, creating a domino effect of live-streamed murders and threats from the rival gangs in the country. Only two days after Fito's escape (on January 9 2024), Fabricio Colón Pico, alias Captain ‘Pico, who is considered the leader of the rival gang ‘Los Lobos’, also escaped prison.
The escape of the two drug traffickers caused everything to explode to such an extent that on January 9, members of the "Los Tiguerones" gang hijacked a live channel.
Police officials did confirm that they arrested 13 people who participated and that the hostages were safely released. Not only this, but the situation escalated quickly when police officers were kidnapped and murdered inside the prisons, and these murders were recorded and spread on social networks with a strong message of blood and revenge.
The structure of Narco crime in Ecuador is fundamentally made up of three large criminal groups. "Los Choneros," "Los Lobos,'' and "Los Tiguerones. ". On the one hand, organized crime is closely linked to drug trafficking (especially cocaine), contract killings, and arms trafficking.
However, these are not the only Narco groups functioning in Ecuador, as there are three other groups also participating in organised crime, which are “Los Lagartos,” “Chone Killers,” and “Latin Kings.”.
In practice, all these Ecuadorian criminal groups function as subsidiaries of the Mexican cartels and, to a lesser extent, of the Colombian cartels as well.
For example, in this line, the Tigers and the Lobos are linked to the Jalisco New Generation cartel, while the Choneros, as I said before, are linked to the Sinaloa cartel. These two cartel groups are extreme enemies in Mexico, which translates to how they unleash a wave of violence whenever they are fighting for power and territory.
These narco gangs control prisons, neighbourhoods, and ports, amongst other things, that have allowed them to take total control of the state and destabilise it to the point it has reached now.
Their control is rapidly extending to other regions of the country, such as Esmeraldas, among other coastal cities in Ecuador. A curfew was set for 60 days, and people are subject to official security searches as precautionary methods extend.
If it is not stopped and controlled now, it will take no time for it to extend to the whole country, leading the way for Ecuador to become a failed state.
Edited by Sanjana Srinivasan
Photo credits: Carlos Duran Araujo/EPA, vía Shutterstock & Live broadcast screenshot from TC Television
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