Ecuador has ordered troops to the port city of Guayaquil to combat a wave of drug-related violence that has claimed dozens of lives.
President Guillermo Lasso said Sunday the military has been deployed to “strengthen control” and “prevent the entry of drugs from the north, from Colombia, or weapons from the south, from Peru.” In addition, the president more than 1,000 additional police to the Guayaquil
The president blamed a recent surge in violence on “the settling of scores” between criminal gangs he said were unsettled by government efforts to take drugs off the streets. Over the weekend, Guayaquil recorded a record 13 murders.
Nestled between the world’s biggest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, the country of 17.7 million people is favored by traffickers because of its porous borders, a dollarized economy and major seaports for export.
A war for drug revenues has pitted gangs at the service of Mexican and Colombian cartels against each other, sending Ecuador’s homicide rate surging to 13.92 per 100,000 inhabitants last year from 7.84 in 2020, according to government data.
According police records, almost all of the murder rate increase comes in Guayaquil and other coastal cities, where drug transport activity is centered. Interior cities such as Quito, Cuenca, Riobamba and Loja, maintain homicide rates below six per 100,000 inhabitants, among the lowest in Latin America.
The power struggle between drug cartels has also drawn in allied prison gangs, with more than 300 inmates killed in riots last year.
Guayaquil, a city of 2.8 million people, is home to Ecuador’s main commercial port. In 2021, the country seized a record 210 tons of drugs, 8.2 tons in Guayaquil last Tuesday alone.
Lasso also announced he was replacing the country’s police commander in response to the crime wave.
The president did not specify the size or duration of the military deployment to Guayaquil, where five people were killed and 10 wounded in a shootout in a poor neighborhood last Friday.