Elections in the country’s biggest security crisis: Can Ecuador find a way out of the violence?

Elections in the country's biggest security crisis: Can Ecuador find a way out of the violence?

Which candidate will manage to stop the ever-escalating violence? This is the question the Ecuadorian people will ask themselves when they elect a new president on Sunday.

The assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio on August 9 made headlines around the world. The case makes it clear: The early presidential and parliamentary elections are taking place in the most massive security crisis the country has ever experienced. A few years ago, Ecuador was one of the safest countries in Latin America, but since 2020 the murder rate has increased enormously: from 7.6 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, the number has now more than quintupled.

Up until the beginning of August, it actually looked as if ex-President Rafael Correa’s centre-left party would benefit from the tense security situation. But things have changed since Villavicencio’s murder. Now the right-wing candidates are gaining popularity. They promise to crack down on the crime with a heavy hand.

The state has practically lost control over large parts of the country.

Franklin RamirezProfessor at the Institute of Political Studies at FLACSO University

Whoever wins Sunday’s election, the challenges they face are complex. “The state has practically lost control over large parts of the country,” Franklin Ramirez, professor at Flasco University’s Institute for Political Studies, told the AIO Information. Many regions are under the control of organized crime.

One reason for the situation cannot be found in Ecuador at all, but in Colombia. “The Colombian FARC guerrilla functioned as a kind of buffer,” says Ramirez. They have been more moderate since the 2016 peace treaty and the current negotiations with the Colombian government. The fragile Ecuadorian state was unable to fill the resulting power vacuum on the border with Colombia.

Since then, various groups and narco cartels have been fighting for supremacy there and at ports. The military and police are also permeated by criminal structures.

It is no coincidence that the violence is greatest in the poor parts of the city.

Juana Francisactivist of the Afro-Ecuadorian collective “Women of the Asphalt”

According to Ramirez, the situation is also homemade. Under the last two governments of Lenin Moreno and Guillermo Lasso, public institutions were massively curtailed. “Without a strategy to replace the missing structures,” says Ramirez. The Ministry of the Interior – responsible for security – only used nine percent of its budget in the first half of 2023. And financial controls have been relaxed – making money laundering easier.

The cuts also affected social policy. Poverty has risen sharply, many children have dropped out of school during the pandemic, and hospitals are short of medicines. Only a third of Ecuadorians work in jobs subject to social security contributions. “It’s no coincidence that the violence is greatest in poor neighborhoods,” says activist Juana Francis of the Afro-Ecuadorian collective Women of the Asphalt in Esmeraldas.

She criticizes the one-dimensional idea of ​​security. “Now a state of emergency has been declared. They militarize the streets and think that solves something”. The absence of the state created the environment for crime, and these measures fell short.

Great support for ex-president despite allegations of corruption

Despite allegations of corruption and the authoritarianism of ex-President Rafael Correa, his Revolución Ciudadana party still enjoys strong support. Especially in the coastal regions of Ecuador, she is celebrated for her reign from 2007 to 2017, during which she strengthened the state and improved the social systems.

This is exactly what candidate Luisa Gonzales is counting on in her election campaign. The only woman among the candidates positioned herself as an opponent of the banker Lasso’s liberal government. So far, she had led the polls with around 30 percent.

Your indigenous competitor Yaku Perez surprisingly won 22 percent with his environmental program in the last elections. But it seems rather doubtful that he can repeat this success in the current situation.

The more dangerous the situation is perceived, the more the voting decision is one of looking for hard-handed solutions.

Pablo OspinaLecturer in Social and Global Studies at Andina University

“The more dangerous the situation is perceived, the more the voting decision is one of the search for order, an authoritarian discourse, and solutions of the heavy hand,” says Pablo Ospina, lecturer in social and global studies at Andina University, according to the AIO Information. “That makes for a tendency to the right.”

About the candidates Otto Sonnenholzner and Jan Topic. They represent the entrepreneurial class and stand for this policy of the heavy hand. The eloquent radio presenter Sonnenholzner had a more rational discourse, but his tone sharpened in the presidential debate. Sentences like: “Rest assured, if a criminal raises a gun against a citizen, he will get the shot he deserves.”

Topic, meanwhile, poses with a machine gun and boasts of having fought as a sniper “in Syria and the most hostile places in Africa” ​​for the French Foreign Legion and in Ukraine. So far, his monothematic election campaign has not convinced most voters. That could change now.


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