Ecuador goes to "War" against crime, but will it work?
Experts suggest a militarized approach may bear results more akin to Colombia than El Salvador
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Soldiers patrol the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador, enforcing a mandatory curfew. Their faces are covered in black masks and they are armed with automatic rifles. Downtown, police have set up checkpoints where they stop young men and subject them to searches for gang-related tattoos.
The militarized crackdowns are occurring nationally, and are being organized in response to a series of seemingly coordinated attacks by organized criminal groups, which included hijacking a television studio during a live transmission, on Jan 9.
Residents say the streets haven’t been so empty since the early days of COVID, which hit Ecuador hard, and some experts are raising concerns that the harsh crackdown has already led to violence against innocent citizens and arrests on flimsy evidence.
So far, the aggressive actions by security forces have inspired equally aggressive actions by Ecuadorian gangs, who have kidnapped law enforcement officers as well as attacked police stations.
The government says the measures are necessary after a series of high-profile jailbreaks, and a wave of violence that left at least 10 dead, and at least 7 police officers abducted by armed criminals.
Naboa has become the latest president in Latin America to emulate Bukele’s approach to crime in El Salvador— complete with copycat PR photos of shirtless detainees crowded together on prison floors, and military sweeps of poor neighborhoods searching for young men with tattoos.
Renato Rivera, coordinator of the Organized Crime Observatory of Ecuador, is among those who have doubts an “El Salvador-style approach” will be successful.
“Latin American history has shown that militarization is a common response to security threats,” he said in an interview with Insight Crime. “Usually, when governments respond to organized crime with violence, it generates more violence.”