A weekend that witnessed at least 12 murders in Guayaquil, most of them committed by hitmen believed to be connected with drug gangs, is sparking public outrage and calls for an overhaul of law enforcement strategy.
In addition to the dead, 16 more were injured, 11 of them requiring hospitalization.
So far in 2022, the city has recorded 77 murders, a 300 percent increase over the 19 committed during same period of 2021. “This is terrible and cannot continue,” Mayor Cynthia Viteri said Sunday. “The government’s plans have failed and must be revised immediately. We need help and we need it now.”
Responding to the murders, President Guillermo Lasso appointed a new National Police commander Sunday and ordered 1,100 additional police personnel to Guayaquil. “We need more feet on the ground to maintain order but we also need to adjust our approach to crime prevention and protecting the public,” he said at a press conference. He added that the new commander, General Carlos Fernando Cabrera, is developing a plan “tailored to the crisis in Guayaquil.”
The weekend bloodbath was highlighted by a murder in an upscale restaurant near the Mall del Sol Saturday night. When the two hitmen were asked for their vaccine cards at the entrance of the Grilling Bar and Restaurant, one pulled a handgun from a bouquet of flowers and asked, “Does this work?”, after which they walked calmly to the table of the victim, an Albanian man said to be connected to the European drug trade, and shot him several times in the head.
At the weekend’s biggest crime scene, a group of about 15 gunmen arrived by boat on the Playita del Guasmo and killed five and injured nine on a recreation field. Police said the murders were apparently part of a drug deal gone bad.
The weekend murders followed the highly publicized killing of a Dutch tourist in a popular Cerro Santa Ana restaurant last week.
Nelson Yépez, a security analyst who has worked as a consultant with the National Police, says the country needs “complete rethinking of law enforcement” to confront the gang-related murders in Guayaquil and other coastal communities. “The present strategy is to be reactive to crime, to come to the scene after the crime and conduct clean-up investigations. This does not work with these murders,” he says.
“What is required is a more robust, more sophisticated approach. We must concentrate on gathering intelligence so the murders can be prevented and the criminals arrested before the fact,” he said.
He said the strategy must begin in the country’s prisons, particularly in the Guayaquil Penitentiary. “Many of the murders are ordered from prison yet we allow the incarcerated gang leaders to have cell phones and access to the internet. These people should be isolated and denied communication resources. Before this can happen, however, we must confront and correct the corruption within the prisons that allows the gangs the freedom to talk to their cohorts on the streets.”