Violence once again colors the streets Ecuador.
This Wednesday, presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated in Quito after leaving a political rally.
WATCH: Ecuador: Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio shot dead in Quito | Video
Villavicencio, 59, died after being shot three times in the head in a hitman attack, and about 40 others were injured.
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso immediately condemned the armed attack and declared a national emergency throughout the territory.
However, Villavicencio’s murder andThis can be a very serious symptom of a violent environment He lived in Ecuador for several months.
In addition to Villavicencio, in July this year, Agustin Intriago, the mayor of the western city of Manta, was killed in an attack by assailants, where an athlete also died.
The recent prison riots have also added to this.
The most recent of these occurred in July, when 31 inmates were killed in a prison in Guayaquil, the country’s second largest city.
A wave of violence comes amid campaigning for the presidential and legislative elections. The next one is scheduled for August 20.
Below we present three keys to understanding what is happening in Ecuador.
1. Political violence
The severity of Fernando’s murder Villavicencio Exemplifies the difficult situation of violence experienced by Ecuador.
VillavicencioA trade union leader, journalist and activist, Lasso launched himself as the presidential candidate of the Konstrui movement after Lasso presented a call for elections for August this year.
He He stood out for denouncing drug trafficking seeping into official government structures And he based his campaign proposal on strengthening citizen security through the police and military.
But although this is a very serious case, it is not the only one.
In July, the country was already shocked by news of the assassination of the mayor of Manta, Agustin Intriago, who was shot dead while visiting a construction site.
Ariana Estefania Sankey, an athlete who approached an officer for help, also died in the incident, which authorities described as an attack.
The assassination of the politician was added to others in recent months.
In July, Rinder Sánchez, a running mate in the equally conflicted province of Esmeraldas, was shot dead. When four men tried to steal his car And in February two aspiring mayors died in separate attacks.
Intriago’s death coincided with a new outbreak of violence in Ecuadorian prisons.
On July 22, inmates at Guayas No. 1 Deprivation of Liberty Center, in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second most populous city and home to Ecuador’s largest port, confronted each other.
Authorities sent 2,700 police and military personnel to restore order and put an end to it 31 people lost their livesAccording to data provided by the prosecutor’s office.
During these operations, uniformed officers seized an arsenal of long-range rifles, grenades, ammunition and explosives, the armed forces said on their Twitter account.
Hours later, inmates in 13 of the country’s 35 prisons began a hunger strike. They retained about 100 guards.
President Lasso’s response was to impose states of emergency in various parts of the country.
Many analysts point out that the move will make it difficult to end the violence experienced in prisons. 400 people have died since 2021According to organizations such as Human Rights Watch.
On top of that, there were some towns and cities Attacks and bombings Against commercial establishments and private vehicles and public transport.
2. Claws of drug trafficking
The western provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayaquil and Manta have again been the main scenes of violence experienced in recent months in Ecuador.
Because? There are major ports of the countryAn infrastructure much sought after by criminals, especially drug traffickers.
“Ecuador’s main problem with regard to the geopolitics of drug trafficking is given by its territorial location next to Colombia and Peru, the world’s main cocaine producers, and the weakness of integrated border controls that facilitate drug entry. Then the coastal profile and transport to strategic points in Guayaquil”The Ecuadorian National Police agreed in a statement released in July.
In the same statement, the defense agency agreed Very little government control over sea and air space It facilitates the departure of aircraft and ships from port terminals with almost no inspection.
The conditions described above favor the creation of national criminal organizations and the arrival of other international organizations, and statistics confirm it. Since 2019, the amount of drugs seized in the South American country has almost tripled, rising to 201 tonnes compared to 79.5 tonnes four years ago, the report said.
Another sign is that homicide rates have risen. The number of homicides rose from 1,088 in 2019 to 4,761 last year and authorities maintain that 80% of these deaths are related to drug trafficking.
However, some statistics provided by the police recently cast doubt on this version. 79% of the 3,568 people killed in the first half of 2023, the organization pledged. They have no criminal record.
However, the minister of the interior, Juan Zapata, has emphasized the official thesis in recent months, and also presented another argument: the increase in the seriousness of crimes.
“Now it’s not one person’s chosen death. Now there are many events. They don’t mind baking in a restaurant”, the official said last January.
In fact, many investigators have pointed to Villavicencio’s murder as having criminal gangs financed by drug trafficking as its perpetrators.
Despite the severity of the panorama, Zapata has denied that the entire country is under the control of organized crime. “Violent Deaths Geolocation. “Ecuador has 24 provinces and the problem is in five, which are drug routes,” he explained.
Some of the statements questioned by Carolina Mella, an Ecuadorian journalist living in Guayaquil.
“Violence has started spreading across the country. “It’s because the ports are needed for drug trafficking on the coast, because there are storage points in the mountains, even in Quito,” he explained.
3. War on drugs and overcrowded prisons
The Ecuadorian government blames the current crime boom solely on criminal organizations, particularly drug traffickers.
And, for this reason, Minister Zapata made himself a target Increase the number of police officers to 82,000 by 2024.
However, there are those who believe that this method is not correct.
“In Ecuador we live in a war on drugs (And we have a government) that aims to put more police and army on the streets, but does nothing to reduce money laundering,” complained analyst Luis Carlos Cordova in a conversation with BBC Mundo.
“While playing cat-and-mouse, chasing down gang members and diverting enormous resources to security that should have gone to social investment, (the government) It does nothing to break the economic structures of organized crime”, denounced the researcher of the Order, Conflict and Violence Program at the Central University of Kyoto.
Córdoba believes that the government should focus more resources on education, especially to combat and prevent school dropout Young people are completing the ranks of criminal organizations.
He also advocated strengthening controls on police forces and the military to combat their possible links with criminals.
Regarding the prison crisis, when he signed the emergency decree after the Riots in Guias prison, President Lasso hoped the move would “allow us to act more strongly to suppress criminals” both inside and outside prisons. A belief not shared by his opponents.
“This issue will not go through an exception order. We are order-to-order. We lived by the 16 commandments. What did they solve? Absolutely nothing”, said presidential candidate Luisa Gonzalez, close to former President Rafael Correa.
With the declaration of a national emergency taken after the death of a presidential candidate, There are already 17 mandates.
For its part, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has called on Ecuadorian authorities to combat prison overcrowding. The emergence of violence and illegal activities Extortion of prisoners by organized gangs etc.
As of 2022, there were 36,599 people in Ecuador’s prisons, despite their capacity to hold only 30,169 people. And four centers were 95% overcrowded, the IACHR condemned in a report.
These acts of violence put security at the top of the agenda, potentially benefiting proponents of the “Bugalistas” theses.