Ecuador: "The new president must eliminate an entire mechanism of transactional organized crime embedded in state institutions"

(To Maria Grazia Labellarte)

“The new president faces a great challenge regarding state security. He must eliminate an entire mechanism of transactional organized crime embedded in state institutions." this is supported by Maria Dolores Santos (last photo of the article): computer systems engineer, founding member and president of International Reach and  Asociación Italiana Social Research Center, winner ofAFCEA Women's Appreciation Award 2021, expert in security issues, international relations, defense and intelligence.

Ing. Santos what is happening in your country at the moment?

In Ecuador, what we are experiencing is an internal armed conflict, in which the law enforcement agencies, the Armed Forces and the National Police, are deploying all their contingents to face various organized criminal groups (GDO). President Daniel Noboa Azín has placed his total trust in the Ecuadorian police force and Armed Forces, as well as in international collaboration to fight organized crime gangs. The Organization of American States (OAS), through its representatives of member countries, expressed support for President Noboa's government. Likewise, the Biden government will cooperate with Ecuador to fight organized crime.

This internal conflict in Ecuador has been considered by us to be another pandemic, because citizens are confined to the "state of exception" and curfew waiting for what happens on the streets of the country.

How did Ecuador get to this point? What were the real internal political causes? Is there any foreign influence?

From a brief chronological look, the events date back to the beginning and during the government of former President Rafael Correa (2007-2017) for the alleged financing of drug trafficking in his campaign, the legalization and pacification of gangs in 2007 and for the expulsion of the US drug monitoring base in Manta in 2009. Thus, with the arrival of new rulers, the link with the criminal mafias has deteriorated, Lenin Moreno (2017-2021), Guillermo Lasso (2021-2023) and now the current president Daniel Noboa Azín (Photo), who began governing on November 23, 2023 as a complement to the Lasso government, provoking early elections.

In 2023, Ecuador was classified as the most violent country in Latin America, due to the high number of crimes. This problem was expected to be resolved with current President Noboa's Plan Fénix campaign offer. Before taking power, Noboa formed a political alliance with the Christian Social and Citizen Revolution parties with which his first economic bill was approved. Subsequently, in December 2023, State Attorney General Diana Salazar conducted an operation called Metastasis in which she attempted to arrest several people for alleged involvement in an organized crime and drug trafficking network. Those involved in this conspiracy include members of the judiciary, law enforcement and others.

It is then that the scandal begins due to the escape, on January 6, 2024, of Adolfo Macías alias Fito, leader of the Choneros organization, who took the lead, in December 2020, after the death of Jorge Luiz Zambrano alias “Rasquiña, JL ”. However, with the division of this organization, the prison massacres that have been occurring from February 2021 to today begin.

The current government has tried to reorganize the prisons with the transfer of some managers.

On January 8, the president issues Executive Decree No. 110, with which he decrees the state of emergency at national level and the curfew. Despite this established ban, excesses occur: cars burned, prison guards kidnapped. At the same time, in Riobamba prison, a prisoner escape occurs in which Fabricio Colón Pico, leader of Los Lobos, escapes. Pico had been captured 48 hours earlier, at the request of the state attorney general, as the perpetrator of the murder of former presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, in August 2023, and for having organized an attack against the attorney general himself.

The triggering event occurred on Tuesday 9 January 2024, while a television channel in the city of Guayaquil was broadcasting live, after a raid the station was seized by criminal groups. Due to this event, the President of the Republic Daniel Nobia Azín issued Executive Decree No. 111 with which he decreed an internal armed conflict and identified as objectives 22 transnational organized criminal groups such as terrorist organizations and military belligerent non-state actors.

What measures has the Army adopted?

The Armed Forces assume control and direction of the State from the declaration of internal armed conflict. State governance is expected to be achieved, Noboa could become the new South American Bukele, he himself has presented a model of future Salvadoran-type prisons.

Additionally, anyone wishing to enter Ecuador across the border with Colombia or Peru will need to present a criminal record certificate.

After 6 days, on Sunday 14 January 2024, from the state of emergency, the Armed Forces and the National Police managed to regain control of the country's prisons in Machala and the Turi prison in the city of Cuenca. The support of the Catholic Church was essential in obtaining the rescue of the prison leaders of Esmeraldas. The work and commitment of the police forces have played a very important role in the dismantling of terrorist groups, in the fight against attacks on the police, on public and private infrastructures, in the recovery of escaped hostages, in the release of hostages: prison guides, administrative officials and police officers. These actions are considered as part of the Fénix Plan.

Was the escape of "Fito", leader of Los Choneros, seen as a challenge by Noboa?

Adolfo Macías alias Fito, is the leader of Los Choneros, protagonists of the violence perpetrated in the country. In 2009 he was arrested for the murder of the director of the Litoral Penitentiary. He managed to escape in 2013 while being transferred to a maximum security prison called La Roca. The current government took advantage of Fito's escape to begin "intervention in prisons" throughout the national territory. It is presumed that he is in Colombia due to his relationships with FARC dissidents.

Can you tell us what your analysis is regarding the challenges of the future?

The new president faces a major challenge regarding state security. He must eliminate an entire mechanism of transactional organized crime embedded in state institutions. Judges, prosecutors, police, soldiers, prison leaders and politicians are contaminated. Hopefully the laws will be reformed in favor of Ecuadorians and not in favor of those who break them.

Today, Ecuador is not only a transit country for international drug trafficking, but has also become a drug distribution center for the region. Its geopolitical position makes it "an attractive country" to foreign mafias and the use of the US dollar as Ecuador's official currency is also very attractive for transnational organized crime. The president mentioned the application of economic measures to finance the costs of fighting terrorism, which implies an increase from 12% to 15% of the value added tax (VAT).

The armed forces and the national police receive recognition and ovations from Ecuadorians for their excellent performance in safeguarding the country. However, it will take more than 10 years for Ecuador to regain peace and tranquility.

Photo: Policía Nacional del Ecuador / Presidencia de la República / X / author