The problem of insecurity in Ecuador has gone from being an issue to be resolved in the medium term to becoming an urgency. The death of an 11-year-old boy in an ice cream parlor, shot four times in the crossfire between a policeman and a thief, exhausted the margin of maneuver for the government of Guillermo Lasso.
The president was more focused on weathering the storm of Pandora Papers and in the political dispute that it wages with Congress over the blockade of its main economic reforms. But he reappeared this Monday night with the announcement that he would put the military on the streets to accompany the police in the fight against common crime. “It is necessary to end the violence that took the life of Sebastián Javier and, before that, that of other Ecuadorians,” said the head of state.
Half an hour after his message, the Ombudsman’s Office issued a statement asking commanders and police officers to “always bear in mind the duty of respect for the rights to life, safety and integrity of the population”, so that their actions, “ by being professional, careful and responsible, they prevent the fight against delinquency from becoming a risky situation for the population”. The Public Defender’s Office also criticized proposals such as those of the mayor of Guayaquil, the most conflictive city, who sent the presidency a bill authorizing citizens to carry arms for their own defense.
“Nothing will be able to repair this terrible loss, but we must all look for strength,” said Lasso, who offered legal defense to police and military personnel who face problems with the courts for carrying out their work in the fight against criminals. “They act with the courage that characterizes them, because this Government will pardon all those who have been unjustly condemned for having fulfilled their work”, he promised. And he attacked the judges who were supposed to “guarantee peace and order, not impunity and crime”.
Violence in Ecuador
Lasso decreed a state of emergency throughout the territory, converging with the state of emergency imposed on the prison system three weeks ago, after the most violent prison riot in the country’s history. “We are all moved by the painful departure of a child, a son, to whose parents and family we express our condolences”, declared the president in a video released by social networks.
In less than a month, a storm of adversity vanished the feeling of optimism and tranquility that the new Government reaped for having vaccinated nine million people (half of the total population) in its first 100 days of administration. The conservative politician had promised this in his campaign and achieved approval ratings of over 70% at the end of September, when a violent uprising took place in a prison in Guayaquil, which left 118 dead and took nearly 10 days to control. Then, all of a sudden, citizens’ concern with the wave of homicides committed by gunmen and the reports of robberies in broad daylight became visible.
The same day that the inmates of the Coastal Penitentiary rioted, the National Assembly rejected a bill by the Executive entitled Creating Opportunities Law, which contained a tax reform to satisfy the International Monetary Fund and a labor reform to make employment conditions more flexible. This unleashed a crisis of governability that Lasso described as a conspiracy by his opponents against democracy.
While the agent tried to distort the bad image left by the revelation of the Pandora Papers, the violence was spreading in the metropolitan region of Guayaquil, the largest in the country. The number of violent deaths has already doubled last year, and this region is the scene of a third of all homicides in the country. In 2018, they did not reach 1,000 a year across Ecuador, a figure that this year jumped to 1,884, after several murders on commission in broad daylight and in residential areas.
Three robberies with firearms in front of banks during office hours expanded the discourse of fear last week, in a population that is increasingly afraid of going out into the street because of the risk of being robbed while waiting at a traffic light, or that someone enter your home to steal while the owner is out shopping, or have a car stolen when it is parked in front of the house.
Along with the violence, the amount of drugs seized in the country grows. The 82.2 tons of narcotics expropriated in 2019 now reach 116.6 since the beginning of the year. The Ecuadorian president, by the way, linked drug trafficking to the wave of violence that affects the entire country, but especially the big cities. “Ecuador has gone from being a drug transit country to becoming one that also consumes drugs,” said Lasso. “When drug trafficking grows, so does the action of gunmen and homicides, robberies of homes, vehicles, goods and people,” added the president, without giving concrete figures. In addition to the state of emergency, the leader of the Andean country asked the other political forces to put aside their differences to fight against their “only enemy”: drugs.
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