President Lasso sent the Assembly a proposal for the Armed Forces to support the Police in combating organized crime, a strategy that has been criticized by experts.
President Guillermo Lasso presented the project for the partial reform of the Constitution to the National Assembly, in which he proposes that the Armed Forces support the National Police in combating organized crime.
Currently, the Constitution of Ecuador does not allow the Armed Forces to support the Police in internal protection and in maintaining public order. For this reason, Lasso proposes to modify the Constitution with this partial reform.
Last Wednesday, December 7, 2022, President Lasso signed the decree and sent the partial reform project of the Constitution to the National Assembly.
A partial reform is made when a proposal for modification alters the constitutional structure and the elements of the State, but there are no changes in the rights, guarantees and the procedure for reforming the Constitution.
Constitutionalist lawyer Ximena Ron says that in these cases “democratic deliberation within the Assembly is necessary” before citizens vote on that change in a referendum.
In the decree signed by Lasso on December 7, 2022, the question which the Assembly must discuss and the proposed modifications to the Constitution are stated (see below).
The partial reform process is one of the three ways to make changes to the Constitution.
The other two are the constitutional amendment —made with a referendum like the one called for next year— and the constituent assembly. The mechanism applied for changes, Ron says, will depend on the severity of the change.
What changes does Lasso’s partial reform of the Constitution propose?
In the reform project sent to the Assembly, Lasso poses the following question: “Do you agree that complementary support from the Armed Forces is allowed in the functions of the National Police to combat organized crime by partially reforming the Constitution with the provisions in Annex 1?”
In that annex, Lasso’s proposal says that article 158 of the Constitution, which refers to the functions of the Armed Forces and the National Police, should be reformed. If this partial reform is approved, a paragraph would be added to this article that says:
“Upon prior reasoned request from the National Police, the President of the Republic of Ecuador may order complementary support from the Armed Forces to the National Police. This complementary support will be provided to combat organized crime in an extraordinary and regulated manner.”
The Organic Law of Legislative Function establishes that to deal with constitutional reforms, the Legislative Administration Council (CAL) must create and integrate an occasional specialized commission that processes the project. This commission will prepare the report that will be discussed by the plenary so that at the end of the two debates it is approved, denied or archived.
The Constitution establishes that the partial reform cannot be done without there being 2 debates in the plenary session of the Legislature on the modifications that are planned to be made. The second debate will take place at least 90 days after the first. If the Assembly approves the constitutional reform project, a referendum will be called within the next 45 days.
What do the experts say?
On December 7, 2022, President Lasso said that he was presenting this reform “because Ecuador today faces a battle against gangsters, against drug trafficking and even against drug politics.”
Lasso said it outside the Assembly, in front of people who supported him and held signs that said, “Out with the drug traffickers” and other similar slogans. However, for years, experts have criticized militarization as a strategy to combat organized crime and its consequences.
Dr. Luis Altamirano, a former commander of the Ecuadorian army and a security and political analyst, says the government’s proposal will not work to combat organized crime in the country.
Altamirano says that the Armed Forces “have constitutionally and legally established missions, which directly and indirectly contribute to the fight against organized crime.” For this reason, he says, “these capabilities cannot be neglected when assigning complementary tasks to the National Police.”
Altamirano says that the fight against delinquency and organized crime “demand a holistic treatment, not focused on a single police or military gaze.” He warns that if the judicial axis, the penitentiary axis and that of financial analysis and public policies are not strengthened, the objective of combating them will not be achieved.
In addition, he says that the country’s security is also affected by weak institutions and poverty. Altamirano fears that if there are no comprehensive solutions, and due to the immediacy of the solutions, the situation in the country will worsen.
What has happened in other countries?
Violence related to organized crime and drug trafficking is escalating in Ecuador. It is a scenario that other countries in the region have already experienced and that they have faced with different measures, like those that Ecuador is currently proposing, which have left several lessons that are worth considering.
In 2000, Plan Colombia was created to combat drug trafficking in Colombian territory. In addition to fumigating the drug plantations, this plan established a military and police presence in the areas generally occupied by the guerrillas. However, that did not stop drug trafficking in Colombia or affect the demand in the United States. Although the denunciations of human rights violations did increase.
The disputed Plan Colombia ended in 2015. A study published by the Autonomous University of Manizales in Colombia in 2014 concluded that the strategies of the plan demonstrated that the Army could not counteract the problem of drug trafficking demand and the violence that results.
In addition, the investigation concluded that other internal problems such as unemployment and corruption had to be solved. Especially the corruption that occurred in security, police and justice institutions. “The militarization of the war against drugs does not solve underlying problems such as socioeconomic ones,” said the study.
Dr. Altamirano says the same about the situation in Ecuador.
Ecuador also has similar problems. Before 2022, only 3 out of 10 Ecuadorians had a full-time job. In addition, the percentage of informal workers has been increasing in recent years, which means that more and more workers are in vulnerable conditions and are more affected by social and economic crises.
Ecuador is also a country with high levels of corruption. In 2022, the Fundación Ciudadania y Desarrollo — representatives of Transparency International in Ecuador — presented the 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for the country and concluded that Ecuador had a score of 36/100. Its rating dropped 3 points compared to 2020.
In Mexico, something like what happens in Colombia and Ecuador happened. Since 2000, organized crime groups —especially drug cartels—increased their power and penetrated government institutions due to the corruption of officials in the North American country.
Like others in the region, Mexico resorted to a militarization strategy, tasking the Army with taking charge of public security in some areas of the country.
That model has been maintained for years, despite criticism from experts and pleas from citizens who demanded a change in the security strategy that had claimed the lives of many innocent people. In addition, it caused multiple other violations of the human rights.
Between 2006 and 2012 there were nearly 70,000 executions related to drug trafficking. Since then, it has been proven that at least 10% of the victims were not members of organized crime, they were officials, journalists and other innocent people. During this period, it was not possible to destabilize the cartels or reduce the rates of violence in the country.
In the case of Mexico, the experts have conclusions like those obtained from Colombia. They say that if the corruption problems are not solved, the prison and judicial systems are not reformed and the institutions are not strengthened, it is likely that the situation will continue to worsen.
The same could happen in other countries with similar problems, such as Ecuador today.