Ecuador is suffering an unprecedented wave of violence with the country’s second largest city, Guayaquil, engulfed in a constant state of emergency which authorities described as a “declaration of war on the state” by organised criminal groups. As of September 2022, the government counted 145 explosive attacks and 1,000 violent deaths in the so-called Zone 8 formed by Guayaquil, Sambodrón, and Durán.
“Ecuador is surrounded by cocaine-producing countries,” explained a former security adviser to the government, “and has been a transit country for many years. The problem of drug trafficking has always existed, but to the extent that there was a state presence, violence was limited to border areas.”
“Ecuador is surrounded by cocaine-producing countries and has been a transit country for many years.”
Former security adviser to the government.
Earlier in April 2022, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in three provinces to reduce violence related to drug-trafficking that is using Ecuador as a transit point to the US and Europe. The situation has spiralled out of control up to the point in which Cynthia Viteri, mayor of Guayaquil, claimed that criminal gangs have become a state within the state. Consequently, President Lasso’s disapproval rating has rocketed to 85%, a local political analyst commented, “Ecuador is a highly politicised country, it does not surprise me that instead of solving the problem, people are looking for culprits.”
President Lasso’s military strategy has been criticised by opposition leaders and social activists who claim that the government lacks a coherent policy approach to tackle the roots of violence. These voices point at social-economic discontent with job informality as the root cause: over 50% of Ecuadorian households have not recovered to pre-pandemic income levels.
“The government needs to make substantial investments in security and above all in social spending, to give options to young people.”
Board executive, multinational corporation, Ecuador
Despite the violence and associated disruption, the country’s economy is showing resilience as it is expected to grow by 2.9% while inflation is at 4.1%, well below the US and dramatically ahead of its regional neighbours. However, multinational corporations operating in the country such as Néstlé, Coca-Cola, Philip Morris, and General Motors remain cautious about the current situation. A board executive of one such company commented, “GDP per capita has been declining in Ecuador for some time. The government needs to make substantial investments in security and above all in social spending, to give options to young people who see drug trafficking as an easy and abundant source of income.”
The next months will be key for the government to show leadership and advance anti-drug trafficking, economic growth, and social inclusion policies that transcend the security-first impact measures so far taken by the executive. The political analyst summarised, “Fortunately, it seems that the government has responded better this time around and the situation seems to be under control, but for how long?”.