In a televised address Monday night President Guillermo Lasso announced a 60-day state of emergency aimed at “fighting crime and strengthening the powers of law enforcement to meet the growing threat.”
Although the declaration applies to the entire country, Lasso said its focus will be on the coastal provinces of El Oro, Guayas, Santa Elena, Manabí, Los Ríos, Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo. “This is where the drug activity is centered and where the criminal activity is surging,” Lasso Tweeted after the speech. “The increase in criminal activity makes this an emergency for the entire country and we must equip our police with the resources and protections they need to combat it.”
He added that recent prison violence is a direct reflection of the prevalence of drug activity and drug crime in the country.
The declaration was slammed by Lasso’s political opponents as a means to divert attention from the National Assembly investigation into his overseas financial holdings and to restrict labor and indigenous protests.
Shortly before the president’s speech, the Interior Ministry released crime statistic showing that the murder rate has more than doubled over the last year in coastal provinces and cities. “We face an epidemic of crime that is accelerating and we must take drastic action to reverse it,” Interior Minister Alexandra Vela said after the crime statistics were released. “More than 70 percent of the increase is directly related to drug activity.”
She added that while most of activity involves the transit of illegal drugs from Peru and Colombia to the U.S., there is increased drug use among Ecuadorians. “The rising crime is not all related to the off-shore transport to foreign destinations, it is also related to domestic consumption which we must also fight.”
The crime report showed that murder and violent crimes rates were largely unchanged in the sierra region, including Azuay, Loja and Cañar Provinces.
In his address, Lasso said that the National Police, backed up military personnel, will carry out weapons control operations, including highway inspections, and that law enforcement patrols will operate 24 hours a day. “We will give law enforcement the necessary support to carry out their fight against crime, including added protections and support for their work,” he said.
The president said he is creating a committee to increase the authority and protection of police. “We must give law enforcement the means and the rights to do their job,” he said. “Under current rules, it is often the criminal that is protected and whose human rights seem to be most important. We will change this. The laws should be changed to intimidate the criminal, not the police,” he said.
Lasso said he will send legislation to the National Assembly to support the change.
Condemnation of the emergency declaration was widespread among some members of the National Assembly and labor and indigenous organizations. “This is a criminal act by the government under the guise of fighting crime,” said Leonidas Iza, president of Conaie. “It is an attempt to distract from the Pandora Papers investigation and control the popular uprising against neoliberal policies.”