Ecuador: The next Jamaica or El Salvador?
Ecuador is facing a crisis like it has never faced before. Although its 26 per 100,000 homicide rate (as per 2022) is way below Jamaica’s, and one we should aspire to achieve, it is 500 per cent more than it was in 2016.
How did this peaceful nation sink to this level? Well, like with us, through poor choices by governments and issues relating to other countries that have played out in recent years. Let’s look and compare.
Ecuador’s first mistake was closing the American military base in Manta that existed primarily to fight drug traffickers from other countries, primarily Colombia. This was synonymous with a severing of ties and cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
Another major blunder was dismantling a major elite crime-fighting unit within the police force that was a primary tool in the fight against the gangs.
These two decisions set the stage for the drug cartels to take over the lucrative drug smuggling routes through Ecuador.
This problem was given a steroid injection when the Colombian Government signed a peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the communist terrorist organisation that had been in conflict with the Government of Colombia for 52 years. The smuggling routes had been under their control and their demobilisation left a void that the drug cartels, such as the Sinaloa Cartel, exploited.
The true crisis was that the absence of the American military and the aforementioned disbanded police unit left the Government without the tools to truly challenge the new enemies. This disbanding was somewhat reminiscent of Jamaica’s 1993 dismantling of Operation Squad, the perennial front-line unit of the 1980s and 1990s. This move by Commissioner of Police Colonel Trevor MacMillan left the nation unable to counter the violence caused by the deportee crisis of that era.
The question is: Will the Ecuadorian people and their Government follow the Jamaican model of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s going forward? Or will they follow the current El Salvadorean model?
The Jamaican model involved politicising the gangs and embracing them for political advantage, especially from the 1970s to the 1990s, and the more fortunate citizens forming so-called human rights groups that rallied against law enforcement, in effect strengthening the gangs.
The Jamaican model also involved pretending that ours is a typical law enforcement issue and not a crisis in which laws befitting a country at war would be more applicable. Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Jamaican model if we weren’t dictated to by foreign governments on issues of strategies and policies.
Ecuador could also adopt the current El Salvadorian solution of creating laws that strip the gang members of their constitutional rights and build a massive prison and fill it, without trial or charge, with all known gang members.
The former model will result in 50 years of bloodshed and the end of Ecuador as we know it. The latter will fix the issue in fewer than five years. Why? Because Ecuador’s crime surge is not a normal one. It is a result of special circumstances influenced by drug cartels in the region.
Similarly, Jamaica’s crime in the 1970s was influenced by international powers in our region.
The violence in Ecuador is being funded by foreign gangs. Likewise, the violence in Jamaica is being financed by gangs overseas in the diaspora. Neither of the two nations can fight crime by normal methods, using laws suitable for a country in peacetime.
I am sure that all the decision-makers in my country — both Government and Opposition — understand this, even if they can’t implement the laws because of a strangling constitution and the fear of international condemnation.
Ecuador’s future will depend on whether its leadership realises what is needed.
To be fair, there have been homicide surges caused by international factors that have been fought using laws that are suited for a country at peace. Miami in the 1980s was a killing field, with murders surging as high as 621 per annum. This was due to the impact of the Mariel boatlift, wherein the Cuban Government allegedly emptied prisons and allowed a mass exodus of the country’s citizens who desired to leave. The Americans did what was necessary to combat it. They used peacetime laws but wartime prison sentences, similar to that which was done to fight the crack wars of the 1990s.
The methodology? Imprison a generation! And it worked.
Well, I agree with anything that puts a foot on the neck of a killer so he can’t kill anymore, but the United States of America has resources that we and Ecuador don’t. We also can’t get those resources in the time required.
The conduct of their local human rights community will contribute greatly to how this plays out for Ecuador. I know it’s a cool social activity for the bored, idle, and rich in some countries, but this hobby has to be carried out in a responsible way. They, like ours, need to be careful which killers’ rights they champion.
Also, you can pretend to be championing human rights when you look out for one killer but not for only killers. This is another area which the Ecuadorian people need not emulate Jamaica.
The seeds of the culture of crime and the culture of killing have now been planted in Ecuador. This is not going to go away. Like us, it will haunt them for 50 years; that is, unless they follow the proven example of El Salvador and treat their crisis as such.
The issue should be treated not as a crime problem, not as a social issue, but as war.
— Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org