Ecuador records all-time high murder rate but many areas see dramatic crime reductions

Jan 25, 2024 | 0 comments

National Police reported Tuesday that Ecuador recorded 8,009 murders in 2023, the most since crime record-keeping began 70 years ago. The country’s murder rate per 100,000, soared from 27 in 2022 to 44 in 2023, giving it one of the highest rates in Latin America.

Joint police and military operations have resulted in more than 2,000 arrests of suspected gang members since early January.

Paradoxically, the nine-page 2023 crime report also showed murders and crime in general dropping sharply in some areas of the country, mostly in the sierra and the Amazon region. In Azuay Province, crime dropped 25% drop across all categories while Cuenca recorded its second lowest murder rate ever.

In total, 16 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces experienced an increase in crime with Guayas, Los Ríos, Manabí, El Oro, Santa Elena and Pichincha provinces recording the most murders. Guayas province alone accounted for 47% of all homicides.

Provinces showing the largest decline in crime, including murders, were Santo Domingo, down 29%, Tungurahua, down 27%, Azuay, down 25%, Cañar, down 17%, and Napo, down 17%.

In communities with the highest number of murders, the report said the majority occurred during conflicts between criminal gangs, with “about 20%” being contract killings. The report did not attempt to separate gang-related murders from others The report said that an “extreme upward trend in homicides” began in late 2021 and continued through 2022.

Among other findings, there was 64% increase nationally in violent crimes other than murders, in 2023, with almost all of the increase occurring in five coastal provinces.

The report also noted that murder numbers reached historic lows in Ecuador from 2014 and 2018, when the rate ranged from 5.25 to 6.45.

University of Guayaquil criminologist Milton Villacrés said the difference in murder and crime rates across the country is not surprising. “There is a reason it is concentrated in the coastal region and not in the mountains or the Amazon,” he said. “This is where the drugs are collected and packaged and this is where the ports are located that send it on to Europe, Asia and the U.S.”

He added: “Yes, it is alarming that a community such as Portoviejo has a murder rate over 100 while Cuenca’s is 3.5 and Loja’s is 4.6, some of the lowest rates in Latin America. Almost all of the difference is explained by the narco trafficking business. There have been suggestions that the drug crime would move from the coast to the sierra, to cities like Cuenca, but this has not happened except to a small extend in Quito, and I see no prospect that it will. The crime bosses need to be near the ports and their foot soldiers will stay nearby, in the neighborhoods they are familiar with.”

Villacrés said the government’s state of emergency crime sweeps since January 8 have reduced crime substantially. “There has been a 50%-plus reduction in all crimes and an even greater reduction in murders,” he said. “It’s hard to predict if this is sustainable over the long-term since it involves politics, funding and constitutional issues. At this point, the people appear to be squarely behind President [Daniel] Noboa’s war against the so-called terrorists, but we are very early in the campaign. I am very curious how the next few months will play out.”

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