Natural paradise sinks into brutal drug war: “A failed state”

Ecuador Strike National Ecuador faces a serious crisis of social upheaval.  Several clashes between police and demonstrator

For a long time, Ecuador was considered a relatively peaceful country on the violent South American continent – known for the unique fauna of the Galapagos Islands, majestic volcanoes in the Andes, pan flutes and bananas.

But the deadly shots at presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio in the middle of the capital, Quito, have now made it painfully clear that Ecuador has long been at the center of a brutal drug war. “Ecuador is a failed state,” indigenous presidential candidate Yaku Pérez told CNN after the assassination of his competitor. “We are in a serious economic, social and moral crisis.”

Presidential candidate riddled with bullets in Ecuador: “Democracy has been gunned down”

Villavicencio of the Construye (Build) movement was shot dead on Wednesday as he was leaving a school in north Quito after a campaign rally. Investigators recovered more than 60 shell casings at the scene. Nine people were injured in the shooting, including three police officers. A suspect later succumbed to his injuries.

During the election campaign, Villavicencio advocated tough measures against crime and corruption in the South American country. As an MP and journalist, he had launched a number of investigations into politicians and officials from past governments. The 59-year-old apparently made powerful enemies with this. “Democracy has been shot down and the fight against corruption has been mutilated,” said Villavicencio’s campaign manager Antonio López after the assassination of his boss.

“Ecuador is grappling with an unprecedented rise in insecurity and violence”

In recent years, Ecuador has been drawn deeper and deeper into the bloody war over areas of influence and transport routes in the international drug trade. The country is on the transit route for cocaine, which is manufactured in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru and then smuggled to the US or Europe. The deal is worth billions of dollars. The local gangs fight with brutal violence for their piece of the pie.

“Ecuador is grappling with an unprecedented rise in insecurity and violence. Since 2018, the country’s once good reputation as one of the safest ports in the region has faltered, and 2022 was the most violent year in the country’s history,” Camila Ulloa of the Grupo Faro research institute told Americas Quarterly. “In addition to a fivefold increase in the number of violent deaths in the past five years, the year 2023 has seen an unprecedented level of political violence.” The mayor of the port city of Manta, Agustín Intriago, was killed around two weeks ago. In Esmeraldas, candidate for a seat in the National Assembly, Rider Sánchez, was shot dead.

The two crime syndicates vying for power in Ecuador

The attack on presidential candidate Villavicencio brings back memories of dark times in Latin America: in 1989, the liberal favorite Luis Carlos Galán was shot dead by killers from the Medellín cartel at an election campaign event in Colombia. In Mexico in 1994, presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was killed while campaigning.

In Ecuador, two crime syndicates are currently struggling for power and influence: The “Choneros”, who work with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, and “Los Lobos”, which, according to the specialist portal Insight Crime, have ties to the Mexican cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación. Albanian drug dealers are now said to be involved in Ecuador.

Villavicencio shot dead: “Ecuador’s politicians must now be inspired by his courage”

In recent years there have been repeated bloody clashes between hostile gangs in the completely overcrowded prisons. Many prisons are controlled by criminal organizations, the imprisoned gang bosses continue their business from the cells. “Fito”, the head of the “Choneros”, is said to have threatened Villavicencio shortly before he was murdered.

“Villavicencio was targeted for his promises to investigate government corruption and collusion with organized crime,” said Will Freeman of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Ecuador’s politicians must now be inspired by his courage in tackling these issues. If they fail to do so, impunity and its many consequences will only be harder to eradicate.”



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