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Violence In Ecuador Is Result Of Deliberate Dismantling Of The State

Above photo: Ecuadorian soldier on a crowded street. Dolores Ochoa/AP.

The systematic violence which has immersed Ecuador is the product of a process of deliberate destructuring of the rule of law derived from policies implemented by the last three neoliberal governments, warned Jorge Paladines, an academic at the Central University of Ecuador and a professor of law and political science, in an interview with Sputnik.

That, today, Ecuador is in a situation of internal armed conflict, that the country has been plunged into a state of emergency, and that a live television program was interrupted by armed men, is not the result of spontaneity or chance.

On the contrary: the security crisis in the South American nation is the symptom of a series of policies that neglected the social fabric and opened a vacuum for criminal groups to occupy spaces where the state cannot or did not want to reach, says Paladines, who is an expert in political science and an alumni of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO).

“From the government of Lenin Moreno, continuing with the government of the banker Guillermo Lasso and the government of the young banana businessman Daniel Noboa, these three governments maintain a common thread that has to do with the shrinking of the state in the social sphere,” said Paladines.

As the Ecuadorian expert detailed, in these three successive administrations there has been a reduction in the budget for healthcare, education, and social spending, while a priority was granted to the payment of loans to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“There is a deliberate approach to reducing the state that is evidenced in the immeasurable gains in profits that, for example, banking industry has reported,” says the academic.

“Ecuador is a destructured country,” he said. “A country where the rule of law has been deliberately dismantled.”

Paladines explained that the dizzying increase in the homicide rate in the last three years in Ecuador has several causes, but the most fundamental of them has to do with the impoverishment and the very poor conditions in which a good part of the citizens live.

According to the Government’s own figures, more than a quarter of the population (27%) lives in poverty and almost 11% lives in extreme poverty.

The UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, stated at the end of last year that the lack of job opportunities and the country’s low-quality education have led many Ecuadorians to crime and desperation.

“This vicious circle can only be broken if the country invests more in its people,” said the United Nations expert.

Ecuador gad a total of 7,878 homicides in the year 2023, according to official figures, which means a rate of 46.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. This is the highest rate in the history of the South American country.

Useless measures?

Faced with the crisis in several prisons of the country and the escape of two important criminal leaders, El Fito and Captain Pico, the new government of Daniel Noboa, which has not even been in power for two months, decided to impose a series of legal measures aiming at eradicating or reducing violence.

These measures included the declaration of a state of emergency, the curfew, and, later, this January 9, the decree of “internal armed conflict” with which the Army may intervene to “neutralize” criminal cells.

Paladines—also a member of the Institute of Higher National Studies (IAEN)—evaluates that, specifically, the state of emergency decree is a powerless measure that will not solve the problem of violence or the penitentiary crisis.

“It has been shown that car bomb explosions or murders also occur within states of exception. [This measure] has not reduced the crime rate,” says the expert, who recalls that former president Guillermo Lasso also decreed similar protocols without obtaining results.

“They have not worked, they have not functioned either operationally or tactically,” said the author of the book Kill And Let Kill about the violence in the prisons of Ecuador and the social fragmentation in the South American country.

As Paladines detailed, the curfew ordered in the presidential decree was already applied previously in Ecuadorian coastal cities, in provinces such as El Oro, Esmeraldas, Los Ríos, Santa Elena, Manabí, and Guayas, where there is a type of “self-curfew” initiated on the part of the citizens. In the evening, they do not leave their own homes because they live in terror of local criminal organizations.

Lack of strategy to fight insecurity

President Noboa has not yet presented a government plan for how to confront the problem of violence, Paladines has concluded. Furthermore, he says, the Phoenix Plan, which has been promoted to restore security, remains unexplained—no one knows what it is or how it works, and it has not been pointed out exactly what its methods are.

“There is no plan,” said Paladines. “There are no accurate public policies, and what [the president] has announced verbally has generated a wave of prison revolts again,” says the academic in reference to the president’s statements about the transfer of the leaders of criminal groups from the places where they are held to maximum security prisons.

Paladines suggests that a sustainable approach to reducing violence should include removing the social base of drug trafficking and increasing opportunities for ordinary people.

“The characteristic of the gunmen, the shooters, the young criminals who are in Ecuadorian prisons and who are also outside the walls extorting the population, murdering people, and kidnapping police officers, is that they are young people from marginalized socioeconomic strata who do not have a future,” he said.

According to the professor, since the Moreno government, in practice, and much more dramatically so since the Guillermo Lasso government, young people have been left without opportunities to go to university, without medicine in hospitals, and without adequate public assistance. They were condemned to either cross into the Darien jungle and to travel through the Mexican desert to fulfill the so-called “American dream” or to get involved with major criminal organizations that operate in Latin America.

“The way to reduce violence … is to reduce poverty in Ecuador,” said Paladines, “and that is closely related to the economic model, to the economic policy that governments decide to take on.”

“It is not a measure that will be achieved, at least in the short term. It is long term … and they are not measures whose results are immediate; this takes years, perseverance and coherence; it is not even part of a presidential term. This is going to transcend five-year periods, decades,” concluded Paladines.

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