The wave of coordinated violence that has left nearly 80 dead in different prisons in Ecuador is another demonstration of the defeat of the current president, Lenín Moreno, who is beaten by the administration and may have an impact on the second round of elections – between the candidate supported by the former president Rafael Correa, Andrés Arauz and the right Guillermo Lasso on April 11.
Over the past four years, the country has seen an increase in the presence of domestic and foreign organized crime factions. The crisis was exacerbated by the peace agreement between the Colombian state and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas in 2016. Since then, dissidents who have not accepted disarmament have sought refuge in other countries. countries in the region, including Ecuador. With the migration, they began to strengthen the local criminal factions.
Many of these groups have their leaders operating in overcrowded prisons and overseen by often corrupt state officials. Between 2013 and 2017, under Correa’s administration, more than 1,000 prison staff were laid off, from jailers to prison directors. Many of them are still responding to prosecution, accused of receiving bribes in exchange for benefits for prisoners.
According to official information, the most likely hypothesis that triggered the wave of deaths last Tuesday (23) points to an act of revenge for the murder of the leader of the Los Choneros criminal faction, known as “Rasquiña”, in the town of Manta. , an important point on the drug trafficking route that goes to Central America and from there to the USA.
This would have sparked a dispute between the more than 38,000 prisoners belonging to different groups and cartels. Recordings recorded with cell phones show beheadings and mutilations. Ultimately, the government said the situation had been brought under control.
Although it is not a cocaine producer, Ecuador receives trafficking routes from various parts of South America. Its geography, with its jungles and mountains, serves as a hiding place for Colombian, Peruvian, Mexican and local criminal groups.
In addition, the country has a large port, that of Guayaquil, through which part of the contraband passes. There are also recurring land routes that bring illicit drugs north.
Although Ecuador does not have as high a homicide rate as Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, it has yet to control drug trafficking routes. According to the latest report from the NGO Insight Crime, referring to the year 2020, the country has 7.7 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
The drop in homicides, which amounted to 20 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, gave the population a sense of security, but did not interrupt the activity of the groups.
The history that characterizes Ecuador as a refuge for various criminal factions comes a long way. Between the 1970s and 1990s, Colombian cartels used the country as a bridge both to sell drugs abroad and to bring the supplies needed for processing cocaine in Colombia.
Today, in addition to receiving FARC dissidents, Ecuador also provides refuge to members of the Colombian guerrillas of the ELN (National Liberation Army), at war with the Colombian army.
Also from Colombia come the so-called “Bacrim” (criminal gangs), factions with no ideological connection with the ex-guerrillas who practice extortion and kidnappings that help maintain their finances.
In recent years, the Ecuadorian authorities have also recorded the presence of members of the Sinaloa cartel in the country. They act as controllers of the drug routes that pass through Ecuador.
Former President Rafael Correa has involved the military in the fight against drug trafficking. On the one hand, it has achieved good results, lowering crime rates in the regions where they were most active. On the other hand, he was accused of having made pacts with armed groups.
Today, his opponents have returned to accuse the former agent of having ties to Colombian guerrillas who work in drug trafficking, in particular the ELN. In a recent interview with Folha, Correa said: “They always accuse, but never present evidence. The point is that organized crime is out of control.”
Despite the drop in violence rates, the Correa administration has also been eroded by the murder of three journalists from El Comercio, killed by FARC dissidents on the Colombian border in 2016.
According to the NGO Insight Crime, Ecuadorian prisons have been more overcrowded in the past three years. In 2018, the system was operating at 138% of its capacity. Among the adjustments Moreno made from 2019 to meet the requirements of the loan he made with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the prison system has also suffered budget cuts.
At the end of Tuesday (23), the government tried to take responsibility for the tragedy, claiming that it was “actions of criminal organizations with the intention of generating violence in the country” . Moreno said the Defense Ministry would conduct a search and seizure of weapons and explosives inside and outside the prisons.
Correa took advantage of the episode to request, via his Twitter account, the resignation of Moreno. According to the ex-president, the current one liquidated “the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, weakening the institutionality and coordination of security in the country”.