Fernando Arroyo León
Quito, Aug 18 (EFE).- Criminal gangs have transformed Ecuador, long one of the most peaceful countries in Latin America, into a frightened society where the security situation has hit rock bottom. In this context, Sunday’s election might offer a solution, especially after the murder of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.
Villavicencio was killed on August 9 when he was leaving a rally in northern Quito, allegedly by Colombian hitmen, shaking the electoral scene and creating a climate of fear as voters head to the polls.
Security expert Carolina Andrade, Quito’s security secretary, told EFE she expects the homicide rate to climb to a regional record of 40 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, surpassing countries such as Venezuela and making Ecuador the most violent country in Latin America.
Andrade said the problem is that the state hasn’t tackled the crime surge head-on. In her opinion, a form of “criminal governance” has been allowed to emerge, especially in the country’s prisons where gangs are in control.
ARSENALS IN PRISONS
High caliber weapons, explosives and even grenade launchers have been seized inside prisons during searches of cells, proving the limited control that the Ecuadorian state has inside the prisons, where illegal activities have proliferated despite the government’s announcement of preventive actions.
Andrade fears that this might open up the possibility that state institutions, which are supposed to prevent criminality, have been infiltrated by organized crime.
She points to the case of Ruben Cherres, a friend of President Guillermo Lasso’s brother-in-law, Danilo Carrera, with whom he had been involved in a corruption case related to the Energy Ministry and Customs Authority, and who was later murdered, allegedly for his involvement with the Albanian mafia. The president has emphatically denied having any connection with any criminal plot.
Andrade also refers to reports of the apparent penetration of organized crime at different levels of the executive branch of government and in local authorities.
Andrade, a close ally of former President Rafael Correa and a member of the opposition to current President Guillermo Lasso, suggests that Ecuador’s next president should be a strong leader who prioritizes security spending.
Last year, only 30% of the already meager $200 million budget allocated to security was actually spent. “This is the level of priority that the government of President Guillermo Lasso has given to security,” says Andrade.
The security forces have lost basic logistical capabilities, their numbers haven’t been renewed, and their equipment hasn’t received adequate maintenance. There has also been almost no investment in technology to combat crime, she adds.
The security secretary believes an emergency should be declared due to the lack of security and social vulnerability. Crime organizations tend to recruit from the poor, and Ecuador suffers from a very high poverty rate (25.2%).
The eight presidential candidates who are running on Sunday have made rising violence and crime the main issue and Andrade thinks that the country requires a radical change.
A first step to overcome the current state of rising insecurity is in the hands of the voters who on Sunday will choose the person who will govern the country for the next sixteen months, finishing what would have been current president Guillermo Lasso’s official term. EFE