The National Police Command says contract killings and gang violence are responsible for a rising number of murders in Ecuador’s coastal region. The command reports that murders nationwide have increased to 914 in 2020 compared to 848 in the same period of 2019, with almost all the additional murders occurring in Guayas, Esmeraldas, Manabí Provinces.
“We are observing a noticeable increase in killings as the result of gang activity in Guayaquil, Manta and Esmeraldas as well as what we believe are contract murders,” National Police said in a statement. “We are taking measures to control gangs in several cities, focusing on crimes involving motorcycles.”
The statement came after two men and a small boy were killed in a Guayaquil neighborhood Sunday when gunmen opened fire at a birthday party. “We believe this was a murder-for-hire case in which only one of those killed was the target,” police said.
Police say they are increasing street and highway stops to search vehicles for firearms, focusing on motorcycles with two male passengers. “It is becoming far too common for crimes to be committed by motorcycle where there is a shooter and driver,” a police commander said in Guayaquil. “Criminals can escape quickly by motorcycle so our efforts are designed to identify suspected attackers before crimes occurs.”
Despite the increase in murders, National Police report that Ecuador continues to have one of the lowest murder rates in Latin America. The latest statistics show the country with a murder rate of 6.7 per 100,000 population, trailing only Chile and Argentina in the category. By contrast, the murder rate in Venezuela is 60.3, 27.1 in Mexico and 25.4 in Colombia. Police say there is no “murder epidemic” in Ecuador, as there is other countries in the region.
Statistics rank Cuenca and Quito among the 25 cities with populations over 500,000 with the lowest murder rates in Latin America, both with rates below 4 per 100,000.
Police also report an increase in physical assaults, robberies, vehicle theft and petty crime nationwide although they say the increase is less than five percent above the 2019 level. “The hardship brought on by the pandemic is a factor in the higher numbers and is something that we anticipated,” the police statement said. “Unfortunately, the occurrence rate of cases is often exaggerated by social media which posts photos and videos of crimes which become widely distributed. We urge citizens to rely on official reports.”