Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency Monday, blaming drug traffickers for an unending wave of crime that has killed nearly 2,000 people this year.
The 60-day decree gives the Ecuadorian leader the power to use the military to assist the police in beefing up security as the number of murder victims climbed to 1,900 through this month – compared with about 1,400 for all of last year.
‘All social and political sectors must work with absolute unity,’ Lasso said while addressing the South American nation on television. ‘In the streets there is only one enemy: drug trafficking.’
According to Lasso, Ecuador has become a country that has gone from being a transportation hub for the international drug trafficking trade to one where many of its people have become addicted to narcotics.
‘This is not only reflected in the amount of drugs consumed in our country, but in the number of crimes that today have a direct or indirect relationship with the sale of narcotics,’ he said.
Lasso said drug trafficking has brought an increase in murders, home burglary, thefts of vehicles and goods, and muggings.
On Saturday, authorities in Guayaquil recovered at least five tons of cocaine on two containers that were bound for France. At least three people linked to the shipment were placed under arrest. In a separate incident over the weekend, half a ton of cocaine hidden in boxes of plantains was confiscated at a port in Guayaquil.
His order comes on the heels of the death of 11-year-old Sebastián Obando, who was caught in the middle of a shootout between a group of muggers and cops at an ice cream shop in the province of Guayas, were according to Lasso more than 70 percent of murders are linked to drug trafficking.
At least 641 people have been killed in Guayas this year.
Under Lasso’s plan to restore security, 3,600 soldiers and police officers will be assigned to patrol 65 prisons across the country, which are overrun by gangs who practically have a say on the day-to-day lives of 39,000 inmates.
At least 230 inmates have been killed in riots this year, including 119 at the Litoral Penitentiary on September 28 following a revolt between gangs linked to Mexican criminal organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
The leader José Adolfo ‘Fito’ Macías Villamar, is one of the two leaders of Los Choneros, a gang linked to Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel, told Ecuadorian digital news outlet La Posta that criminal groups operate at will by bribing guards and cops with $80 to $100 a day at the Litoral Penitentiary.
Gangs also operate a loanshark program in each pavilion, lending out anywhere between $5,000 to $50,000 that draws 30 percent to 100 percent in fees, with guards and the police receiving 10 percent in kickback payments.
Lasso’s edict will allow soldiers and cops the authority to control the freedom of movement, assembly and association, among the most important limitations.
The president also announced the creation of a legal defense unit to defend uniformed officers who he said have been sued for fulfilling their duty.