Clara Álvarez, security expert: “It is likely that there will be more violence in Ecuador and more aggressive demonstrations”

After the scenes of violence, panic and chaos that occurred on Tuesday in Ecuador, where a state of emergency was declared, Ecuadorian professor and researcher specialized in Security Carla Álvarez points out that what happened “could be foreseen and expected” because the country is immersed in “a spiral of violence for several years” and, if decisions are not made to change social and institutional structures, “it is likely that the escalation will not stop and that there will be new, even more aggressive, demonstrations,” in opinion of the expert who analyzes with the causes of the crisis and the possible solutions.

Are Tuesday’s events a turning point in the escalation of the conflict?

What happened on Tuesday marks a milestone in the history of violence in the country, first because it is unprecedented and, second, because the criminal gangs showed great strength. They were located in many cities in the country carrying out coordinated attacks, from the northern border with Colombia to the southern border with Peru. There were many attacks with vehicle burning, assaults, looting in shopping centers, and the episode of the television channel that was taken over by a group of hooded men.

This marks a before and after, because the Government’s reaction has been “we are going to use a strong hand, we are going to fight it”; and this was the response that citizens needed. But decisions are not being made that change the social structure and allow crime to be eradicated: they are not allocating a larger budget to the security forces, they are not equipping themselves in a better way, they are not thinking about the conflict in a comprehensive way.

If we are going to use our hand, we are going to fight criminals, some will be killed and others will be imprisoned, but in what prisons are they going to be? If the prison infrastructure is completely destroyed, if there is no classification of prisoners, there are no scanners or technology to control what enters and what leaves, if the police have allowed drugs and weapons to enter, that has unleashed violence. If that does not change, we are going to have many people who go to prison being victims of extortion conditions in which in order to survive they will be forced to join gangs.

What situation are the citizens and the State in after what happened?

We citizens are experiencing conditions of insecurity that are not only related to crime. There is a level of violence in society that is marked by violent deaths, such as femicides, which have increased greatly; We also have kidnappings, extortions, common crimes… Homicides only reflect part of the insecurity situation. We have social and interpersonal violence that makes daily life difficult and makes economic recovery difficult (…) In addition, we have violence concentrated in the coastal region, which is where the drugs leave for the different consumer markets.

The leadership of the State has been taken over by a new Government, which takes office at the beginning of December. The new president arrives with a less confrontational speech (…) but with a fairly weak team. The work team in the field of security is the one that was appointed later, therefore it arrived late and began to make decisions late, and the members of the Government had no experience in the public sector. The Government was not sufficiently prepared.

We have a weak institutional framework with crime that is growing and gaining power, this is an explosive mix. In Ecuador these two variables converge: the growth of crime indicators occurs in parallel with institutional weakness. Ecuador’s institutional framework is the one that has weakened the most in the entire Latin American region.

What can the Noboa Government do?

Ecuador needs a strong hand, compliance with the law so that there is control and social order. Criminal gangs are passing the limit of what is permitted, but if the State forces are permeated by these same gangs, is it possible to contain violence or reduce crime? No. The heavy hand is an insufficient instrument to change living conditions, so a certain authoritarian drift is beginning to be seen.

We need to purge the security forces so that the decisions that are made are not leaked, we need a political command that knows where to go and until now the president [Daniel Noboa] has not revealed its government plan, we need to study the social indicators.

Yes, we need a [presidente como el salvadoreño] Bukele, but Bukele has been interested in security and violence indicators, but also in social ones. El Salvador leads the incarceration statistics of Latin America, but has also worked on social indicators, on the economic sector, on foreign policy and on clear criminal policy. He has a slightly more comprehensive vision of the management of society.

There are those who speak of a ‘Bukele solution’ for Ecuador, despite human rights violations.

In general terms, you need a strong hand to enforce the law, but above all, it is necessary to improve the living conditions of citizens. In Ecuador unemployment and underemployment are very high (…) that is also why Ecuadorians are among the most numerous who arrive in the United States. We have so many people dying, leaving the country, we have no health care or education, it is a humanitarian catastrophe.

When you want to apply a Bukele plan in which the only thing that matters to you is the heavy hand, the possibility of violating human rights is even greater, because you do not have your sights set on improving the quality of life, social conditions.

Can the same human rights violations occur in Ecuador as in El Salvador?

Now we have a declaration of “internal armed conflict” [que hizo el presidente Noboa el martes] And this is very serious. But who are the belligerent groups? They are criminals who do not have political demands, their main interest is to hold power in some localities and obtain economic returns, but they also operate with the forces of order. The line that divides the good from the bad is not clear, and if you declare an internal war, the righteous will pay for the sinners.

Conditions could worsen due to these decisions, but unfortunately these decisions are popular: people want order and ask for a strong hand, and we are seeing an authoritarian drift that could somehow remedy the situation, if there were a plan. And now there is no plan, there is no clarity about the actions, about where they are going to intervene or how; Nor is there better equipment for public forces to carry out these interventions.

We are declaring a war against an enemy that is amorphous, that is diluted in society (…) We are generating a war where it is not clearly identified who is who and that can bring about the greatest violations of human rights that can be imagined. We are all at risk because, for example, if you express an opinion against it, you may be considered part of a criminal group or that you are in belligerence with the State.

Declaring belligerent groups that are not yet consolidated can be a double-edged sword and can lead to excessive and unnecessary use of force.

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