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Nations in Crisis: Ecuador

  • (december 2022) Nations in Crisis: Ecuador

    Ecuador's instability dates to 1997. Abdala Bucaram had just been inaugurated as president after winning elections when parliament ousted him for corruption. Ecuador then had 6 presidents in 8 years. A period of relative calm started after in 2005 president Lucio Gutierrez had to flee the country following mass protests against his dictatorial style and when in 2007 president Rafael Correa, a leftist, was elected. In 2016 Ecuador inaugurated a giant dam in the jungle, Coca Codo Sinclair, financed and built by China, but the project was more famous for bribery scandals than for the technological achievement. Meanwhile, Ecuador too felt the shock waves of the Odebrecht scandal: in 2017 former vice-president Jorge Glas was jailed for taking bribes from Odebrecht to build the dam, and was followed in jail by former electricity minister Aleksey Mosquera and even former anti-corruption official Carlos Polit. At the same time, engineers discovered 7,000 cracks in the dam. In 2018 Ecuador issued an arrest warrant for ex-president Rafael Correa, who had fled to Belgium. Lenin Moreno, elected in 2017, faced huge anti-government protests from a very angry public, so much so that in 2019 had to impose a night curfew near government buildings.

    For a couple of decade Colombia’s FARC guerrillas monopolized the flow of cocaine from Ecuador, but in 2016 FARC signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government and largely abandoned that business. The vacuum was filled by dissident Colombian guerrillas, Mexico’s rival Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation gangs, Albanian mafia groups and others. They all funded and armed Ecuadorian gangs to work for them. Until 2019 Ecuador was still a peaceful country, surrounded by countries with much bigger problems. The homicide rate was the same as in the USA. By 2023 Ecuador has become the deadliest country in mainland Latin America with a murder rate of 45 per 100,000. The world’s most violent city in now in Ecuardor: Duran, with a murder rate of 148 per 100,000.

    In 2021 Guillermo Lasso, a former banker, was elected president in the middle of gang-related chaos, mostly prison riots that were spinning out of control: 62 inmates were killed in February 2021, and 126 at Guayaquil's infamous Litoral prison in September, and 68 at the same prison in November, and 43 at the Santo Domingo prison in May 2022, etc. These were riots between rival gangs like Los Lobos and R7, who are fighting a bloody war for control of lucrative cocaine routes. Ecuador is cursed by its geography: it is wedged between Colombia and Peru, the world’s biggest cocaine producers. In November 2022, when the government started transferring some 2,400 inmates out of the Litoral prison, the gangs staged attacks on the streets of Guayaquil, killing 8 people. A few days later, when the government decided to transfer Los Lobos' leader Jonathan Bermudez to a maximum security prison, inmates rioted at the "El Inca" prison and ten were killed. A few days later the prison's warden, Santiago Loza, was assassinated. The government introduced extreme measures to curb the power of gangs inside prisons, but the drug cartels reacted by attacking government facilities. After bombs went off in Guayaquil in August 2022, killing 5 people, the government declared a state of emergency there. More bombs went off in November 2022, killing 5 more people, and Ecuador declared a state of emergency also in Esmeraldas, besides a fifth one in Guayas.

    In July 2023 Lasso declared states of emergency and night curfews in three provinces to fight organized crime. One month later presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated. In January 2024 the new president, Daniel Noboa (te scion of a banana dynasty), declared another state of emergency after prison riots in Guayaquil and even an assault on a TV station. This happened a few days after Adolfo "Fito" Macias, head of Los Choneros gang, escaped from prison.

    Ecuador is also emblematic of the divide between the rich and cosmopolitan city elite and the rural masses. In the middle of all these gang-related violence, the developer Uribe Schwartzkopf unveiled two residential towers in Ecuador's capital Quito: Qorner, by Safdie Architects, and Iqon, designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), now the tallest building in Quito.


    In 2023 Ecuador had the highest murder rate of Latin America, followed by Mexico, Colombia and Brazil (major countries only). In 2024 there were prison riots in Guayaquil and even an assault on a TV station, following the escape from prison of Adolfo "Fito" Macias, head of Los Choneros gang. A prosecutor, Cesar Suarez, was assassinated. The country was descending into civil war.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2022 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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