The events at Ecuador’s TC live studio earlier this week brought the country’s level of gang violence to the front pages of newspapers and news websites everywhere. Even though organised crime and gang violence surrounding the narcotics trade are the central security problem in Latin America, these issues rarely make the headlines in Europe.
Organised crime threatens the political security of the state. In Ecuador, where gangs dominate prisons and hold press conferences openly challenging the government, the government has lost its monopoly on violence. Organised crime is also a threat to human security. Ordinary citizens have been declared fair game (or legitimate targets) by the gangs in this conflict. Economic security is threatened in so far as recent events will harm foreign direct investment, while there will also be a loss of earnings after many shops and malls temporarily closed due to security fears. While the conflict is unlikely to spill across the border into Peru or Columbia, Ecuadorians are increasingly joining migrant movements to the USA.
The situation in Ecuador has not always been this bad; up until 2016, it was considered one of the safer countries in the region. The reasons for the rise in organised crime are complex, but central to this development has been neighbouring Columbia’s peace negotiations with the FARC rebel group, which created a power vacuum for dominance among Narcos.
In response to the latest events, Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa has declared a state of emergency arguing that Ecuador finds itself in a state of internal armed conflict. Noboa’s choice of words clearly seeks to justify the extraordinary measures definitive of a state of emergency. Drastic securitizing actions against gang violence have recent precedence in Latin America. In San Salvador, President Nayib Bukele has clamped down on crime and homicide by incarcerating anyone suspected of involvement with gangs in high-security prisons. With due process and other civil liberties suspended, the authorities readily overuse their powers. Notwithstanding the terrible situation faced by ordinary Ecuadorians due to gang violence, Noboa’s plan to build prisons modelled on San Salvador’s example should thus give pause for thought.