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Violent start to the year in the provinces that are on the ‘drug route’

Published on January 16, 2023

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In the first 10 days of the year, there were 162 violent deaths in Ecuador, of which 80% were registered in just five provinces on the Coast. Firearms were involved in 86% of the cases.

The year began with an alarming increase in violent deaths in Ecuador and, specifically, in the provinces that are on the so-called “drug route.”

During the first 10 days of 2023, authorities recorded 162 violent deaths. Which means that on average 16 people were killed every day.

It is the worst start to the year in the history of Ecuador, in terms of violence.

According to the registry of the Ministry of the Interior, in 2022 there were 4,603 violent deaths in the country (12.6/day).

That number meant a rate of 25 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. At the time, it was the highest rate in the history of Ecuador.

According to the UN, this rate is the main variable to measure the level of violence and insecurity in a territory.

If the daily average of 16 deaths, which has been registered until January 10, 2023, were maintained throughout the year, the country could accumulate some 5,900 murders thru the end of December. This would represent a rate of 32 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

In the National Development Plan, approved by the Government in 2021, one of the objectives set was to reach 2025 with a rate of 10 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. A goal that now seems so far away.

The ‘drug route’

The Government blames the growth of violent deaths on the war between gangs, who fight for control of the territory, and the drug- trafficking and drug micro -trafficking markets.

According to official figures, more than 80% of the murders are committed in five coastal provinces that are on the drug route. These are Guayas, Esmeraldas, Manabí, Los Ríos and El Oro.

In 2022, of the 4,063 murders committed in the country, 3,731 occurred in these provinces. This represents 81% of the national total.

The Government and the Police prefer not to disclose the data by province so far in 2023.

However, the Minister of the Interior, Juan Zapata, said that 80% of the 162 cases were committed in these five provinces. That is, about 130.

In zone 8 alone, which includes Guayaquil, Durán and Samborondón, in Guayas, 58 murders were registered in the first 10 days of the year.

Firearms are the target

To counteract the violence, the National Police and the Government are proposing to strengthen security in the five provinces based on statistical data.

Since 80% of deaths are committed in these areas, Zapata says that the same percentage of the 10,000 new police officers who will graduate in 2023 will be assigned to these five provinces.

Although the Minister says that it is impossible for violent deaths to stop, the goal is to contain them and then start to reduce them.

One of the approaches to achieve this is to control the infiltration of arms and ammunition that are sold on the black market. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 86% of these crimes are committed with these weapons.

In 2022, the Police managed to seize 8,929 firearms (about 744 per month) and 158,939 rounds of ammunition (about 13,250 per month).

As of January 9, 2023, the Police seized 171 firearms and 150 ammunition. That is, confiscations in 2023 are below the record of 2022.

To strengthen this area, the Ecuadorian government signed an agreement with the United States Agency for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The objective of this agreement is to determine the traceability of weapons and ammunition that end up in the hands of criminals in Ecuador.

The idea is to trace the factories where the weapons used in Ecuador come from. And to identify the route they follow to enter the country.

They hope this strategy will deal a blow to the armed wings of criminal gangs and weaken their illicit arms trafficking business.

Loja province also saw violent deaths in the first 10 days of 2023

Between January 1st and 12th, 2023, five violent deaths occurred in Loja, three in the Loja canton and two in Catamayo. In 2022, the province closed the year with only 23 violent deaths.

The most recent case was that of a taxi driver who had been reported missing since January 7th. On the morning of Thursday, the 12th, while they were searching for him, the Police found human remains in a ditch on the Loja-Catamayo highway.

Agents from the Special Operations Group first found an arm and a part of the torso. Then they found more remains in the surrounding area. The authorities confirmed that it was the taxi driver, identified as Michael Castro.

According to the first investigations, the victim had taken a fare just before his disappearance. The passengers are the main suspects in the crime.

During the same week, on Monday, January 9th, a citizen died in a fight in the parking lot of the Gran Colombia market in the capital of Loja. The hypothesis is that a lender came to collect a debt from a merchant, but he refused to pay.

On January 5th, authorities in Loja confirmed the death of a woman of approximately 30 years of age. Her body had a leg wound, caused by a knife.

Hit man in Catamayo

The other two violent deaths occurred in the Catamayo canton, the second largest town in Loja province. One of the crimes involved a hit man on the night of Monday, January 9, in the La Vega sector.

The body of the victim, who was 49 years old, was found along with a note. The authorities believe that the killing was a settling of accounts due to a dispute over territory for the sale of drugs.


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