A Longing for Peace: Deepening Crisis in Ecuador

Ecuador is currently gripped in a quandary as president Daneil Noboa has announced a second state of emergency due to energy crisis.

Being declared under an ‘internal armed conflict’, the security situation has crippled in Ecuador as a former beauty pageant was fatally shot dead in broad day light over her alleged affair with a deceased drug lord. Homicide rates in Ecuador are unprecedented with 245% surge from 2020 to 2022 and further 75% increase in 2023. The year 2024 has witnessed killing of people in power and public figures including Ecuador’s youngest mayor, a director of prison, former beauty pageant and many others.  

Ecuador is currently gripped in a quandary as president Daneil Noboa has announced a second state of emergency due to energy crisis. Earlier in January 2024, president Noboa announced state of emergency for better cooperation among police and military personnels to tackle with increase incidents of violence across the country. Under such situations Ecuador is trapped in a complex multifaceted problem that has affected its political stability, economic condition, security situation leading to an overall humanitarian crisis.

Cocaine Nightmare

At the heart of the problems is the violence related to drug cartel operating on Ecuadorian soil. Ecuador is relatively new to the organised drug cartels that have been operating in its neighbourhood. Wedged between two of the world’s largest producers of cocaine i.e. Columbia and Peru, Ecuador had been largely unaffected by the drug cartels operating in its vicinity. But things changed in 2016 when a historic peace process started within Columbia ending 50 years of resistance from the FARC.

 The large-scale demobilisation of FARC led to the diffusion of gang members to neighbourhood of Columbia. As vacuum was created and the demand for cocaine was still there, the smaller gangs took over to fill in the void. The geographical location and large coastline along the pacific with long river network provided strategic advantage and Ecuador became the perfect spot for export of cocaine to the rest of the world. Local gangs of Ecuador like Los Choneros, Los Lobos, Latin Kings etc. received support from Mexican and Venezuelan gangs who provided them with state-of-the-art weaponry in lieu of cocaine. These local gangs of Ecuador had their own turf war that further aggravated the violence. Soon, the nexus gripped the entire nation with its barbaric violence and Ecuador witnessed unprecedented gang related violence which ranged from extortion, kidnapping, murders, car bombing, prison riots, political assassinations to hijacking live television. Homicide rates in Ecuador are unprecedented with 245% surge from 2020 to 2022 and further 75% increase in 2023.

In 2024, Ecuador’s most wanted criminal aka Fito escapes from prison leading to a series of events for which President Noboa had to declare a state of emergency to tackle with. The port city of Guayaquil had turned into the most violent city in the entire region. The year 2024 has witnessed killing of people in power and public figures including Ecuador’s youngest mayor, a director of prison, former beauty pageant and many others.  President Noboa has taken a hard stance on gang related violence and categorised gang violence as act of terrorism, and declaring nation under a state of internal armed conflict and imposing emergency. By doing so it has given more power to the security personnels to act against narcoterrorism.   

Daneil Noboa: A Political Novice?

Scion of a banana tycoon, Daneil Noboa is fairly young to the world of politics and diplomacy. He gained popularity for his promise to embrace neoliberal economic thinking and soon after assuming power he adopted a hard stand against narcoterrorism. His political campaign was focused on young population and addressing their concerns.

However, president Noboa’s stance on narcoterrorism would eventually escalate the situation as the gangs would retaliate and surge in violent activities could be witnessed.  As President Noboa is only an interim president till next elections in 2025, expecting substantial changes on ground is improbable. Further, the ‘iron fist’ or ‘mano dura’ approach of Ecuadorean government is more focussed on the street security rather than treating the root cause of the problem. The situation has worsened to such an extent that a referendum to increase the military’s role in the public security matters of Ecuador got support from the people. Perhaps due to the fear psychosis created by the gang related violence, people just want to feel safe and are willing to support the government on such matters, a closer look would suggest that this action of the government is not sustainable in the long run.

Increasing security measures and militarising civil security could be fruitful for short term goals but in doing so larger picture stays looming. The state of lawlessness in prison and rampant corruption needs more structural reforms in order to get things under control. Sanitising streets off the gang members and ensuring a longer sentence for the gang related violence would accentuate into a prison crisis. Arresting gang members and putting them behind the bars would only lead to overcrowding and would drag the turf war into the prison. Therefore, a military response to narcoterrorism is equivalent of treating the symptoms, and on the other hand it would help Noboa to gain support for the presidential election due next year.

On April 21, in a quick vote tally done by the national electoral council, President Noboa has secured a significant share of votes for his security focused referendum. The referendum was aimed at fighting increased crime by allowing joint military and police patrols, longer sentences for crime related to terrorism and murder and extradition of Ecuadorians. Interestingly, Noboa tried to slip in some labour and economic questions in the referendum but, didn’t received much appreciation from the people. In doing so, Noboa has drawn criticism and appears to be cornered on the question of citizens labour rights.

Further, in a diplomatic blunder committed under his leadership, Mexican embassy in Quito was raided by the local police on 5th April 2024. Honduras and Venezuela announced to severe ties with Ecuador during a meeting of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on account of violating the international laws and breaching the compound of Mexican Embassy in Quito. Honduras recalled its charges d’affaires from Ecuador and Venezuela announced to close its embassy and consulates in Ecuador. Drawing a legal status from the Vienna Convention, embassies are legally protected and are off-limits to the domestic authorities. They are like sovereign territories in a host country any coercive action taken on its premises would draw a diplomatic reaction. When the local police raided the Mexican embassy in Quito and arrested former Vice President Jorge Glas who was seeking political asylum there, Ecuador violated the international law and 1954 Convention on Political Asylum. This particular move has raised alarm about the current leadership in Ecuador and its disregard for multilateral treaties. As a fallout Mexico suspended its diplomatic ties with Ecuador, followed by Venezuela and Honduras. The two Latin American nations were first to do so and promised to stand against Ecuador in International Court Justice to uphold the dignity of international laws.

Nation in darkness!

Worsening the existing situation the energy crisis has further created problems that the Noboa’s government has to face. Declaring a second state of emergency in the same year, Noboa’s approach towards energy crisis seems to be shallow. As soon President Noboa assumed power, he vowed to make the nation power-cut free by February 2024 but the situation has worsened. There are planned and unplanned power cuts and blackout lasting several hours. The authorities have suspended working days and promised reduction in electricity bills to make up for that.

Under such circumstances, President Noboa has ordered security personnel to guard the power projects to avoid sabotage and decreed to suspend work for two days. The move to suspend work is projected as for ‘rest and leisure’ however it can be a possible move to buy some time to fix the distribution system. Leading cause of the energy crisis is the unavailability of water in the reservoirs due to El Nino,  from where the hydroelectricity is generated. Under given circumstances authorities have highlighted the corruption and acts of negligence at ministerial level as significant factors in Ecuador’s energy crisis.

 In the wake of the present situation in Ecuador, the energy crisis requires a robust solution which would require time.  As the nation just participated in a referendum, President Noboa has labelled the incidents of blackout as acts of sabotage to make the situation work in his favour.  However, energy crisis in Ecuador is bigger than it appears, there is a deficit of approximately 27 gigawatts per hour and Columbia has halted export of electricity to Ecuador. Addressing the above said issues would require time and investment in energy production sector which is nowhere seen under current situation.

Amit Dogra
Amit Dogra
Amit Dogra is currently a Research Intern at the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi. He holds a double master's degree in International Relations from the South Asian University, New Delhi and Sociology from Jammu University. He can be reached on ‘X’ @DograAmit1010 or can be mailed at dograamitofficial[at]gmail.com