Foto: Tomada de Primicias.

Guayaquil is the region with the highest number of extortions and is the most violent city in this South American country.

Humanos Editorial

After two months of deploying the military to combat crime through the state of emergency declared last January, President of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, has significantly reduced homicide cases in his country, dropping from 40 homicides per day to 12, representing a decrease of over 60%.

However, despite these encouraging decreases in homicides, extortions and kidnappings are on the rise. According to the Ecuadorian Police, payments for extortion have doubled between January and March 2024, with Guayaquil being the city with the highest number of cases.

Between January and March 2024, extortions in Ecuador have reached 1,518 cases, compared to 787 during the same period last year. Homicidal violence has risen from a rate of 5.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018 to 26.4 in 2022, and in 2023 it exceeded 35. Criminal activities linked to drug trafficking, such as micro-trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, assassination, human trafficking, illegal arms trade, money laundering, among other illegal activities, have increased over the past year.

Read: Ecuador X-ray: A country besieged by violence on the way to radicalization

Additionally, drug consumption has increased as part of the drug produced in Colombia and Peru remains as payment to local criminal organizations that market it in Ecuador.

Furthermore, local criminal organizations like the Choneros, the Lobos, the Tiguerones, the Lagartos, Latin Kings, Chone Killers, among others, have strengthened and grown, with connections to Mexican cartels and dissident groups from the FARC, the former Colombian guerrilla.

Statistics of violence in Ecuador

All crimes have increased in Ecuador over the last three years: theft from persons grew between 2021 and 2022 by 23.8%; of goods, accessories, and vehicle parts by 4.4%; motorcycles by 58.7%; cars by 64.5%; home invasions by 2.3%; and economic units by 10.2%.

In the semi-annual bulletin of intentional homicides in Ecuador, the Ecuadorian Observatory of Organized Crime, Oeco, based on homicide violence figures, states that «Ecuador is one of the most violent countries in Latin America and the world.»

«The country has experienced a 528.10% increase in intentional homicides compared to the first semester of 2019. By the end of 2023, the country exceeded 7,000 violent deaths, reaching a homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants greater than 35,» the report says.

This indicator places Ecuador as one of the three most violent countries in Latin America, behind Venezuela (40.4) and Honduras (35.8) in 2022. According to these figures, «Ecuador went from having an average of 10.4 homicides per day in 2022 to 19.72 in the first semester of 2023, a figure that nearly doubles the daily record of 2022.»

88.11% of all intentional homicides in the country were committed with firearms, and it is particularly noteworthy the murder of «young people between 15 and 19 years old, which increased by 500% since 2019, with homicide prevailing with this type of weapons at 94.31%.

Dangerous links

Daniel Noboa, who said he would apply the «successful recipes» of his counterpart in El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, to combat the growing crime in Ecuador between 2022 and 2023, must not only face the increase in kidnappings and extortions, but also the alleged links between politics, justice, and drug trafficking in cities like Guayas, one of the most populous and economically important cities in the country.

Recently, several judges, former senior judicial officials, and a former legislator were arrested following raids carried out by the Attorney General of Ecuador.

«Corruption was generated from the highest spheres of legislative politics, which put justice administration at its service and obviously at the service of drug trafficking. Justice cannot be a space for drug trafficking and corruption; we will not allow these bad elements to continue rampant,» Salazar added.

In this operation, a former assemblyman, the former president of the Provincial Court of Justice of Guayas, several judges from the same court, and administrative staff of the Judiciary Council were arrested.

These captures occurred within an investigation underway since January 2024, after the Ecuadorian Prosecutor’s Office dismantled a network of police officers, judges, and lawyers operating an unprecedented environment of support for a significant drug trafficker in Ecuador, Leandro Norero.

It was possible to establish the alleged links between authorities and organized crime groups, which led to the arrest of 31 people, including Wilman Terán, the head of the body that supervises judges in the country, and General Pablo Ramírez, who was the head of the Anti-Narcotics Police in Ecuador.

According to authorities, organized crime bands not only wove a solid support structure among politicians, police officers, and judges in Ecuador but also sought to control spaces such as prisons and some provinces, considered routes and drug distribution areas, alongside Colombian and Mexican cartels.

Threats of organized crime in Ecuador

According to the most recent report by Human Rights Watch, the escalation of violence and organized crime activity throughout Ecuador is having a devastating impact on the rights of children and adolescents.

The temporary shift to online learning, along with threats from criminal groups, has particularly affected their right to learn in a safe environment, claims the NGO.

After President Daniel Noboa declared an «armed conflict» against gangs on January 9, 2024, the Ministry of Education of Ecuador temporarily suspended all face-to-face classes and shifted to online teaching nationwide, affecting nearly 4.3 million students, according to UNICEF.

In previous months, the ministry had already transitioned to online teaching in cities like Guayaquil and Durán, which are among the most affected by gang violence.

In some provinces of Ecuador, during online classes, unknown and masked individuals, using personal emails and passwords, entered online classes – in one case even appearing armed – to threaten students and teachers.

Since mid-March, all schools have returned to face-to-face classes, but the increase in organized crime activity complicates the fight against sexual violence.

A once stable country

Ecuador, which until recently was perceived as safe and stable, has seen a worsening of criminal violence in the context of democratic recession and the resurgence of voices calling for the adoption of hard-line security models and militarization.

However, the serious deterioration of the situation in Ecuador and the declaration of internal armed conflict issued in January 2024 by President Daniel Noboa appear to mark a new stage in the persistent security crisis in the region.

Ecuador’s case adds to the increasing perception of insecurity and fear of organized crime violence in the region. In Chile, for example, a survey reports that 54% of people believe it is very likely that a situation similar to that in Ecuador could occur in the country.

Faced with the idea that violence and the power of organized crime have spiraled out of control, a portion of the population is willing to support ‘Bukele-like’ measures, meaning relinquishing democratic guarantees in exchange for coercive pacification.

Citizen security in Latin America has deteriorated, especially in cities with important ports and airports. The reason is the presence of organized crime, particularly organizations linked to drug trafficking, which sought maritime and aerial exits through several countries in the region to evade aerial interdiction in producer countries such as Colombia and Peru.

This is the case of Ecuador, which receives one-third of the drugs produced in Colombia to then be shipped through the port of Esmeraldas, as well as receiving hallucinogens coming from Peru, which are shipped through the port of Machala.

Ecuador experienced the same as Mexico and other countries in the Latin American region: upon realizing that drug traffickers were attempting to smuggle drugs through their borders and ports to the United States and Europe, governments considered the drug trade as a passing phenomenon that would not affect them and that part of those resources could stimulate local economies.

However, they soon realized that this illicit business had come to stay and seriously affect the security, welfare of citizens, and even democracy.

Things to consider

On January 9, 2024, President Daniel Noboa declared the existence of an internal armed conflict in Ecuador. With this decision, the President opened the door for the military to act on the streets in activities related to internal security.


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