Lasso says local governments must do more to fight crime, will ask U.S. support to stop drug shipments

May 27, 2022 | 5 comments

President Guillermo Lasso said Wednesday that national law enforcement agencies need help from local governments to fight crime. “Ecuadorians tell us fighting crime should be the government’s top priority and I agree,” he said during a Wednesday television interview. “We are committing unprecedented resources to the effort, and will hire 30,000 more police officers this year, but we need help from local communities to be successful.”

President Guillermo Lasso says cities should enact laws restricting motorcycles to the driver, claiming that most hit-man style murders are carried out by a passenger.

Lasso also said he discussed the country’s recent illegal drug trade crime wave with U.S. President Joe Biden during a phone conversation last week. “Ecuador is a transit point for drug shipments to the U.S. and other other countries, and President Biden understands this and has offered to help,” Lasso said. “He knows that Ecuador cannot afford to fight the problem alone. Soon, we will begin discussing ways the U.S. government can provide assistance.”

In the interview with Rafael Cuesta of TC Television, Lasso reflected on his first year in office and said crime, a poor economy and political opposition in the National Assembly are his biggest challenges. “I didn’t expect the job to be easy since I assumed it in the middle of the biggest medical emergency in 100 years, but I didn’t expect the resistance I’ve encountered to getting important programs enacted.”

Lasso insisted that local governments must increase efforts to fight crime, particularly in the hard-hit coastal provinces. “The central government cannot solve the problem on its own – we depend on the provinces, the municipalities and even the parroquias to be partners,” he said. “It is the local officials and the citizens living in the neighborhoods where the murders and assaults who can be most effective in stopping crime. We need eyes and ears on the ground, in the neighborhoods where crime is occurring.”

One measure municipal governments can take against the “hit-man” style murders in Guayas, Manabi and Esmeraldas Provinces, he says, is to ban passengers on motorcycles. “More than 70 percent of these murders are carried out by two men on motorcycles. If motorcycles are only allowed to transport one person we could quickly reduce these murders.”

He added that it is easy to “profile” those who conduct hits by motorcycle. “They are always young men and usually two of them, the driver and the shooter. If the local ordinance bans passengers police would have the ability to make arrests and stop the crimes before they occur.”

Responding to charges from mayors in Guayas Province that the government should post police in schools to stop micro drug sales, Lasso said such enforcement should start with the community. “They can post municipal personnel and alert National Police if necessary but the government does not have the resources to by everywhere at once. Prevention starts at the local level.”

Asked why Ecuador needs assistance from the U.S. to stop drug crime, Lasso claimed that it is the “great appetite” for drugs from the U.S., Europe and other countries that has made Ecuador a transportation center for drugs. “Mr. Biden acknowledges this and says the U.S. bears part of the responsibility for the situation.”

Among specific areas where U.S. law enforcement agencies might help Ecuador, Lasso said, are inspections of outgoing shipping containers and stopping small drug transport craft at sea. “They have detection equipment and their personnel are trained in sophisticated interdiction operations.”

Lasso said that the government has “shut down” most of the drug transport operations by small aircraft. “We now have radar coverage of the entire coastline and the criminal gangs know this and have eliminated most of the flights,” he said. “We have identified the air fields that they were using and monitor them on a regular basis. We have made progress in this area.”

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