Ecuador Political Assassination Event: FlashREPORT 09AUG2023

Ecuador Political Assassination FlashREPORT

Fernando Villavincencio - Ecuadoran Presidential Candidate


The assassination of a popular politician in Quito, Ecuador on the 9th of August signals not only a vertical deterioration of gang crime within individual states but also a horizontal spread across Latin American countries. Fernando Villavicencio was fatally shot shortly after participating in a political event in the evening. While gang violence has been on the rise in the country, located on the equator, the killing of a presidential candidate marks a serious escalation.

Until recently, Ecuador experienced peace and stability at levels relatively impressive compared to what many might expect to find in Latin American countries in recent times. Although gangs have not been absent in the country, they did not historically pose a significant threat to officials who criticized their activities. Lately, however, gangs have become increasingly powerful and perilous to Ecuadorians, including politicians with enhanced state security. Notably, two mayors who took action against the activities of gangs in their jurisdictions have been assassinated.

With the current assassination, regional analysts are divided on the opinion that Ecuador may be approaching a similar state of affairs as seen in Mexico, Colombia, and other states in the region. Setting a lower benchmark in the region is the situation in Haiti, where total anarchy has prevailed since the assassination of its president in 2021—an alarming precedent. Currently, approximately 85% of Haiti is under gang control. Given the progress in socio-economic development, Ecuadar has experienced, the argument to make that Ecuadar is far removed from the aforementioned countries, yet similar drivers for political and operational risk remain.

How did Ecuador get here?

Firstly, the Ecuadorian problem with gangs in recent years has been brought about partly by a spillover of similar situations in the region. Colombian and Mexican gangs have created local franchises and radicalized them. This has made drug cartels more audacious and sophisticated in the country.

As Mexico and Colombia cooperate with foreign partners to close local gaps that allow drugs to reach the United States and Europe, the illicit trade has found a haven in Ecuador. With local security systems and doctrine ill-prepared to face the scourge, gangs appear to have an upper hand.

An additional factor is Ecuador's expansive and high-frequency ports, which have attracted these cartels as destinations in Europe are deemed not as wary of cargo from the Pacific states as they are of those from Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere in the region. Ecuador has, therefore, attracted transnational gangs who are currently competing for control because of its relatively good logistics infrastructure.

Furthermore, and particularly troubling is the widespread perception that some politicians in Quito and some local officials have enabled the worsening crisis in the country. Like in other countries in the region, many believe that gangs have either compromised politicians or have had deliberate support from them in carrying out their activities around the country. While there has not been any explicit report pointing to that, the sheer audacity and the murder of some politicians by the gangs have given credence to such claims.

Mr. Villavicencio had been particularly vociferous about an apparent collusion between the political class and gangs. In his political campaigns, he had made the topic a frontline one and gained significant votes from it. His message had, however, attracted some wrong attention as well. Reports of gangs making threats to him were public knowledge, before the fateful culmination of the targeted attack.

Possible Actions, Reactions and Ramifications.

Firstly, the problem with gangs in Ecuador in recent years has been exacerbated in part by a spillover of similar situations from the region. Colombian and Mexican gangs have established local franchises within Ecuador and radicalized them. This development has emboldened drug cartels, making them more audacious and sophisticated within the country.

As Mexico and Colombia cooperate with foreign partners to eliminate local vulnerabilities that enable drugs to reach the United States and Europe, the illicit trade has found a refuge in Ecuador. With the local security systems and doctrines ill-equipped to confront this menace, gangs appear to have gained the upper hand.

Additionally, Ecuador's extensive and bustling ports have become attractive to these cartels, as destinations in Europe tend to be less suspicious of cargo from the Pacific states than they are of those from Mexico, Colombia, and other parts of the region. Consequently, Ecuador has drawn transnational gangs who are currently vying for control, capitalizing on its relatively sound logistics infrastructure.

Furthermore, what is particularly troubling is the pervasive belief that certain politicians in Quito and some local officials have contributed to the escalating crisis in the country. As in other nations in the region, many suspect that gangs have either compromised politicians or received deliberate support from them in conducting their activities across the nation. While there has been no explicit report substantiating this, the sheer audacity of the gangs and the murder of some politicians have lent credibility to such allegations.

Mr. Villavicencio had been especially outspoken about an apparent collusion between the political class and gangs. During his political campaigns, he made this issue a primary focus, garnering significant support from it. However, his message also attracted unwanted attention. Gangs had threatened to kill him before ultimately carrying out the act yesterday.

Navigating the Future

Despite the ominous escalation this murder represents, Ecuador can learn from several examples in the region of how not to combat drug gangs. From recruitment, training, and equipping of security forces, to intelligence gathering and prosecution, Ecuador possesses comparative advantages that enable it to avoid the mistakes made by others in their attempts to tackle gang-related problems.

The government must prioritize effectiveness in its security strategies to prevent the formation of vigilante groups, which can ultimately become challenging to control. State security must also avoid the utilization of indiscriminate attacks and the systematic targeting of entire neighborhoods, as these approaches can render the fight against gangs counterproductive.

Furthermore, collaboration with international partners is vital. Ecuadorian authorities should engage with countries in Europe and North America to address the issue, especially concerning the transportation of goods from the nation's ports. This would include sharing intelligence, aligning regulations, and implementing coordinated inspection procedures to curtail drug trafficking.

Equally crucial is the proper investigation and legal action against politicians suspected of supporting gangs. This process must be conducted with the utmost caution and professionalism, recognizing that gangs may attempt to use blackmail and psychological tactics. Building an independent and robust judiciary, free from political influence, will be essential in this effort.

Looking to the future, comprehensive strategies must be developed that not only focus on enforcement but also emphasize social and economic measures. Investing in education, healthcare, and employment opportunities in vulnerable communities can foster resilience against gang recruitment. Collaborative efforts with community leaders, NGOs, and international organizations can also play a vital role in a holistic approach to reducing gang influence.

In conclusion, Ecuador's path forward should be marked by deliberate planning, regional cooperation, adherence to the rule of law, and a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying causes of gang violence. The country has the tools and regional examples to guide its way, but it requires political will, effective implementation, and international collaboration to make a lasting impact on this complex issue.


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