Rising Violence Prompts Ecuador To Declare “Internal Armed Conflict”

Noboa, the youngest president in Ecuador’s history, faces a crisis of insecurity.


“President Daniel Noboa issued…an executive decree that reforms the current state of emergency and recognizes the existence of an ‘internal armed conflict.’”


Ecuador has been reeling from a dramatic increase in homicides over the past four years as gangs have evolved into transnational criminal organizations linked to Mexico’s drug cartels.[i]. The country’s homicide rate rose from 6.7 per 100,000 citizens in 2019 to an estimated 45 per 100,000 in 2023.[ii] In a recent 48-hour period, two notorious gang leaders escaped prison, gangs laid siege to the University of Guayaquil, and one group stormed a live news broadcast, televising the bedlam for nearly 20 minutes before cutting the transmission, reports center-left Argentine news outlet Clarín. In response to this spate of violence, the recently elected Noboa government declared a state of emergency. However, the continued threat posed by multiple criminal groups has led Noboa to dramatically increase the sense of urgency, declaring instead an “internal armed conflict.” This empowered the nation’s armed forces to enforce a 60-day curfew and restore domestic security, according to Ecuadorian digital news outlet Primicias. The decree enumerated nearly two dozen armed groups and classified them as domestic terrorist organizations, the outlet says. Noboa is only a few months into his term, following a presidential campaign that featured the assassination at the hands of criminal groups of Fernando Villavicencio, a popular anticorruption candidate.[iii] To complement his presidential decree, Noboa announced a package of increased measures, including the construction of additional maximum-security prisons and the expropriation of criminal assets. The effectiveness of these measures bears watching throughout 2024 to see if Ecuador follows down a similar path as El Salvador or continues to spiral down into criminality and violence.


Sources:

“Súplicas de ‘no me maten’ y una granada en el bolsillo: así tomó en vivo un grupo narco el canal de televisión en Ecuador (Pleas of ‘don’t kill me’ and a grenade in the pocket: this is how a drug group took over a television channel in Ecuador live),” Clarín (Argentina’s oldest outlet that is generally considered center left), 9 January 2024. https://www.clarin.com/mundo/grupo-armado-irrumpio-transmision-vivo-canal-television-ecuador_0_0okSuT5tJC.html

An armed group stormed the live broadcast of a television channel in Ecuador, threatening those who were in charge of the programming with guns and weapons of war. There were also violent episodes at the University of Guayaquil and on commercial premises…the security forces stated only two hours after the assault that they were able to recover the taken buildings.


“Noboa declara conflicto armado interno y dispone la salida de militares (Noboa declares internal armed conflict and orders the departure of soldiers),” Primicias (a digital news outlet based in the capital, Quito) 9 January 2024. https://www.primicias.ec/noticias/politica/noboa-conflicto-armado-interno-militares/President Daniel Noboa issued…an executive decree that reforms the current state of emergency and recognizes the existence of an ‘internal armed conflict.’ Therefore, it provides for the immediate mobilization and intervention of the Armed Forces and the Police in the national territory. The decree was issued minutes after armed attackers took over the TC Television facilities and broadcast live. This new decree establishes the identification of…organized crime groups as ‘terrorist organizations and belligerent non-state actors.’


Notes:

[i] Previous governments, unable to stem the growth in criminal potency, have issued pleas to the international community for a “Plan Ecuador,” akin to the wide-ranging security assistance plan and social makeover that helped save Colombia from similar threats in the 1990s and 2000s. For more information, see: Ryan Berg “President Lasso Calls for ‘Plan Ecuador’ Amid Growing Security Concerns,” OE Watch, 12-2021. https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-21393-00-00-00-40-08-49/2021_2D00_12_2D00_01-President-Lasso-Calls-for-_1C20_Plan-Ecuador_1D20_-Amid-_2800_Berg_2900_.pdf?forcedownload=true

[ii] For more information on rising homicide figures in Ecuador, see: “How Ecuador Became Latin America’s Deadliest Country,” The Economist, 10 January 2024. https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2024/01/10/how-ecuador-became-latin-americas-deadliest-country

[iii] For more on Villavicencio, see: Ryan Berg, “Presidential Candidate Assassination Shows New Depths of Ecuador’s Insecurity,” OE Watch, 09-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/presidential-candidate-assassination-shows-new-depths-of-ecuadors-insecurity/


Image Information:

Image: Noboa, the youngest president in Ecuador’s history, faces a crisis of insecurity. Source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidenciaecuador/53367780040/  
Attribution: Flickr, PDM 1.0 DEED


China Celebrates Eyes Opportunity To Expand ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ With Mexico

A Mexican state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping, held by former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

A Mexican state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping, held by former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.


“This year marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries.”


China-Mexico relations date back to 1972, when Mexico broke diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan). For much of Mexico’s recent history, however, its economic and diplomatic relations have been dominated by its neighbor to the north. While its relationship with Mexico pales in comparison to that of the United States, China’s presence in Mexico continues to grow.[i] As noted in the excerpted article from business-focused Mexican daily El Economista, 2023 marks the tenth anniversary of the China-Mexico “comprehensive strategic partnership,” the highest form of partnership China maintains with foreign countries and one of seven such relationships in the Latin America region. The “comprehensive strategic partnership” category implies the full pursuit of cooperation and development on regional and international affairs. As noted in the article, China’s direct investment in Mexico grew 18 percent in 2022.[ii] Yet, the relationship goes beyond trade and investment. At a reception for Chinese Culture Day, Zhang Run, China’s Ambassador to Mexico, said China has a desire to strengthen its ties to Mexico and push together toward a multipolar world and the “democratization” of international affairs. Indeed, more recent controversies in the bilateral relationship have not managed to knock it off course. China’s role in producing chemical precursors for fentanyl, which have come to major public attention in recent years, has not damaged its ties to Mexico. President López Obrador insists that Mexico does not produce fentanyl but simply transits the finished product through the country to the United States after it arrives from China. López Obrador has sought help from the Chinese, according to Spanish daily El País. The outlet reported that China’s Foreign Ministry responded by proclaiming that there is no fentanyl trafficking between China and Mexico.[iii] While China-Mexico ties must be understood in the context of U.S.-Mexico relations, which continue to dominate Mexico’s orientation, China’s increased ties to Mexico have economic, diplomatic, and security implications for the operational environment, especially under López Obrador, who wants to build a buffer between Mexico and the United States by leveraging ties to China.


Sources: 

“China ve potencial en la relación con México (China sees potential in relations with Mexico),” El Economista (a Mexican newspaper focused on business and economics), 15 April 2023. https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/internacionales/China-ve-potencial-en-la-relacion-con-Mexico-20230415-0017.html 

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries…Mexico and China have potential in exchange and cooperation in various areas such as culture, education, and tourism. In addition, the two countries are closely linked in the global industrial and supply chains, while direct investment from the Asian country to Mexico increased 18% in 2022.

“López Obrador insiste en que México no produce fentanilo y afirma que llega de China(López Obrador insists that Mexico does not produce fentanyl and that it arrives from China),” El País (the Spanish newspaper with hemispheric coverage), 5 May 2023. https://elpais.com/mexico/2023-05-05/lopez-obrador-insiste-en-que-mexico-no-produce-fentanilo-y-afirma-que-llega-de-china-tenemos-pruebas.htmlLópez Obrador affirmed that the shipment, intercepted this week in the port of Lázaro Cárdenas, is the latest evidence that the substance [fentanyl] is not produced in the country, but that it arrives finished to be sold in the U.S. market. “We already have proof,” said the president at a press conference. López Obrador announced that he will send a new letter to request the cooperation of the Xi Jinping government in the fight against drugs to identify suspicious shipments and prevent them from leaving Asia.


Notes:

[i] For a more comprehensive history of Mexico’s ties to China, see: “The Evolution of PRC Engagement in Mexico,” Global Americans, 24 August 2022. https://theglobalamericans.org/2022/08/the-evolution-of-prc-engagement-in-mexico/

[ii] For more information on China’s expansion of investment in Mexico, see: “Why Chinese Companies are Investing Billions in Mexico,” New York Times, 3 February 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/03/business/china-mexico-trade.html

[iii] For information on how cartels use social media to market and sell their product, see: Ryan Berg, “Latin America’s Cartels Embrace Social Media to Sell Drugs and Narco Culture,” OE Watch, 01-2021. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/380363


Image Information:

Image: A Mexican state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping, held by former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cena_de_Estado_que_en_honor_del_Excmo.Sr._Xi_Jinping,_Presidente_de_la_Rep%C3%BAblica_Popular_China,_y_de_su_esposa,_Sra._Peng_Liyuan%288959188433%29.jpg
Attribution: Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

Mexican Cartels Display Their Post-Pandemic Power With Orchestrated Violence  

Burned cars and roadblocks established by cartels in Mexico.

Burned cars and roadblocks established by cartels in Mexico. 


“For the first time, the National Liberation Army has a leftist government as its counterpart.  The last active guerrilla in Colombia will return to a peace negotiation, but in a completely different scenario.” 


Mexico’s cartel violence flared once again in August.  In just one week, more than 250 people died in cartel violence.  The cartels burned cars, established roadblocks, and enforced curfews in typically bustling urban centers.  Allegedly, Sinaloa Cartel leaders want to display their power and avenge the arrest of kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, according to French international news service Agence France-Presse. Caro Quintero, a wanted fugitive known for the torture and killing of Drug Enforcement Agency agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, was captured in an operation by the Mexican Navy with the assistance of intelligence provided by the United States.  Not to be outdone, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel also contributed to the shutdown of major urban areas, such as Tijuana and Guanajuato, according to British government-run Spanish-language BBC News Mundo.  The Jalisco New Generation Cartel purportedly wants to push back against the attempted arrest of a cartel leader.  This orchestrated cartel violence in Mexico reveals that Mexican drug cartels vastly expanded their territory during the COVID-19 pandemic and instill fear to control and govern that territory.  Additionally, the latest round of violence shows Mexico’s cartels have become so powerful that they pose a major threat to the Mexican state, operating more on the level of criminal insurgencies than transnational organized crime outfits.  


Sources:

“Ola de violencia de los carteles lleva al gobierno mexicano a desplegar el ejército en varias ciudades (Wave of cartel violence leads the Mexican government to deploy the army in several cities),” BBC News Mundo (Spanish-language version of the popular state-owned media company), 14 August 2022.  https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-62538468  

Thousands of federal soldiers were deployed in several Mexican border cities after a week of street violence generated by drug cartels…President Andrés Manuel López Obrador blamed the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel for the chaos…Earlier this week, drug cartel gunmen burned down vehicles and businesses in the western states of Jalisco and Guanajuato, after authorities tried to arrest a Jalisco cartel leader.  A gang riot at a prison in the border city of Ciudad Juárez also quickly spread to the streets, killing 11 people. 

Source:  “Ola de violencia en México: autoridades apuntan a cárteles como responsables (Wave of violence in Mexico: authorities point to cartels as responsible),” Agence France-Presse (private French company with government access and long-time regional reporting), 14 August 2022. https://www.france24.com/es/am%C3%A9rica-latina/20220814-mexico-juarez-violencia-carteles-crisis  

The Government of Baja California attributed the events that occurred…to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).  The wave of violence was caused by more than twenty criminal acts in five of the seven municipalities of the state…The Secretary of National Defense said that it happened due to the arrest of a criminal entity in another part of the country…Cargo trucks, passenger buses, private vehicles, among others, were burned in five municipalities.  The violence caused the closure of markets and shops, mainly in the tourist area, in addition to the suspension of public transport, which generated problems for the mobility of passers-by. 


Image Information:

Image:  Burned cars and roadblocks established by cartels in Mexico 
Source:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Burned_house_in_aguililla.jpg 
Attribution: CCA-SA 4-0 International

Mexican Criminal Organizations Poised To Dominate South America’s Illicit Economies 

Mexican Police stand guard on the back of a truck in Mexico City.

Mexican Police stand guard on the back of a truck in Mexico City.


“The Sinaloa Cartel’s tentacles stretch across almost the entire globe… It does not have a hierarchical structure, but rather is made up of cells independent of each other, which facilitates its deployment.”


Mexico’s drug cartels have been marching through South America and consolidating their gains across the hemisphere.  As previously reported (see “Mexican Criminal Organizations Consolidate Their Positions in South America,” Issue 5, 2022 and “Mexican Cartels Buying Land on Colombia – Venezuela Border,” OE Watch, Issue 6, 2022), cartels have cut out middlemen in Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.  According to Spain’scenter-leftdaily El País, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel are both now physically present in Chile.  The article notes that Chilean authorities have uncovered plans for several large drug shipments linked to the two groups.  The establishment of a physical presence in Chile has also been blamed for an uptick in homicides and violent crime, as Mexican cartels push out local criminal organizations.  Chilean digital publication Pauta mentions a report from an investigatory unit in the public prosecutor’s office confirming the arrival of Mexican cartels in the country.  The report notes the presence of Mexican cartels in relation to the increase in drug users, as well as increasing involvement in other illicit economies, such as illegal logging and mining.  A strong physical presence in Chile for the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation Cartels would represent a criminal environment in Latin America dominated by two Mexican groups, with an uninterrupted physical presence from the United States southern border to the southern tip of Patagonia.


Source:

“Los dos principales cárteles de la droga mexicanos aterrizan en Chile (The two main Mexican drug cartels land in Chile),” El País (Spain’s major daily generally considered center-left), 29 June 2022.  https://elpais.com/mexico/2022-06-29/los-dos-principales-carteles-de-la-droga-mexicanos-aterrizan-en-chile.html  

A plane from the Sinaloa Cartel tried to send 665 kilograms of cocaine from Chile to the port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.  The CJNG established a laboratory in the Chilean city of Iquique.  It was also discovered trying to introduce 3.5 tons of marijuana into the country through the port of San Antonio, according to the Chilean Prosecutor’s Office.  The evidence and sightings of cartel operatives no longer leave room for doubt about their presence in the region.  The Sinaloa Cartel’s tentacles stretch across almost the entire globe… It does not have a hierarchical structure, but rather is made up of cells independent of each other, which facilitates its deployment.

Source: “Tres carteles internacionales de droga ya llegaron a Chile (Three international drug cartels have already arrived in Chile),” Pauta (a Chilean digital publication), 8 September 2021. https://www.pauta.cl/nacional/narcotrafico-chile-carteles-de-droga-fiscalia-informe

This is part of the alerts that the 2021 Report of the Drug Trafficking Observatory discovered.  “Our country faces for the first time the threat of the installation in Chile of international drug cartels, which we did not know about until now.”


Image Information:

Image:  Mexican Police stand guard on the back of a truck in Mexico City.
Source:  https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=88661&picture=mexican-police-force-on-truck
Attribution: CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

Mexican Cartels Buying Land on Colombia-Venezuela Border

A coca plantation of the kind found on the Colombia-Venezuela border.


“The first thing the cartels ask is if the farm has a landing strip because that gives the property a very high price.”


Mexican criminal organizations have ambitions to transform much of South America’s drug trade through a robust physical presence in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador.  Previously, emissaries of Mexican criminal organizations had arrived at the Colombia-Venezuela border in an attempt to mediate disputes between local drug gangs (see “Colombian Military Continues to Forcefully Dismantle FARC Dissident Structures,” OE Watch, #4, 2022).  However, according to one of Argentina’s leading news sites, Infobae, the presence of Mexican cartels extends well beyond mediation.  Under the guise of oil exploration, Infobae reports how Mexican criminal organizations are driving a real estate frenzy on the Colombia-Venezuela border.  Farmland with a landing strip is especially valued, since it gives drug flights the ability to land and take off near production and storage facilities.  Large farms with landing strips are common because the roads are blocked during the rainy season and prevent farmers from getting their harvest to market.  Another Infobae report indicates that Mexican cartels in the borderland have started to transform Colombia’s drug production as well.  Specifically, Mexican cartels have introduced coca plants that yield greater harvests while requiring fewer hectares under cultivation.  Mexican cartels that used to work with local criminal organizations are becoming more globally minded in an effort to cut out middlemen and other major players.


Source:

“Alarma por el crecimiento de la compra y venta de ganado del narcotráfico y la guerrilla en Venezuela con participación de militares y políticos (Alarm over the growth of the purchase and sale of property from drug trafficking in Venezuela with the participation of the military and politicians),” Infobae (one of Argentina’s leading news sites), 28 April 2022.  https://www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2022/04/28/alarma-por-el-crecimiento-de-la-compra-y-venta-de-ganado-del-narcotrafico-y-la-guerrilla-en-venezuela-con-participacion-de-militares-y-politicos/

There is a boom in the acquisition of properties by…Mexicans in the states of Apure, Guárico, Anzoátegui and Bolívar, with money of unknown origin…The first thing the cartels ask is if the farm has a landing strip because that gives the property a very high price.  The presence of Mexicans…has the excuse that they are interested in oil exploitation…For years, farmers have had airplanes mainly because in the rainy season, the roads are obstructed…Now, there are landing strips everywhere and aircraft landing and taking off at any time.

Source:  “Cómo el Cártel de Sinaloa y el CJNG han innovado la producción de cocaína en Colombia (How the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG have innovated cocaine production in Colombia),” Infobae (one of Argentina’s leading news sites), 11 May 2022.   https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2022/05/11/como-el-cartel-de-sinaloa-y-el-cjng-han-innovado-la-produccion-de-cocaina-en-colombia/ 

As if they were administrators of legal companies, the Mexican drug traffickers participate directly in the cultivation of the coca leaf with the introduction of adapted seeds…Lieutenants sent to the South American country not only supervise the planting, but also coordinate the shipment that guarantees the quality of the drug exported via Central America and its passage through Mexico to the streets of the United States, where the product increases its value exponentially…Despite the limited planting area, they have also implemented strategies to increase the crop yields of plantations.


Image Information:

Image caption:  A coca plantation of the kind found on the Colombia-Venezuela border.
Source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciat/4387014624
Attribution:  CC BY-SA 2.0

Mexican Criminal Organizations Consolidate Their Positions in South America

Violence breaks out in Ecuador during protests over the spiraling security situation.

Violence breaks out in Ecuador during protests over the spiraling security situation.


“Mexican drug traffickers, especially from the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, are sending emissaries that arrive at the border through Venezuelan territory and that, in a few cases, pass through Colombian airports in Bogotá and Medellín.”


Historically, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela had various homegrown criminal organizations all working with Mexican cartels.  More recently, however, it appears that Mexican groups are moving to cut out middlemen and become major players further afield of their traditional regions of operation and influence.  A series of recent events signal this shift in northern parts of South America. Ecuador suffered a series of deadly prison riots throughout 2021 and into 2022.  These gruesome acts heralded the arrival of Mexico’s powerful criminal organizations, jockeying for position in the country’s drug trade, as well as territory for the export of narcotics via the Pacific Ocean.  The excerpted article from one of Medellín’s leading newspapers, El Colombiano, reports that emissaries of Mexican criminal organizations have been on the Colombia-Venezuela border trying to mediate disputes between local drug gangs.  Purportedly, Mexican cartels would like to tamp down the violence and restore the steady supply of illicit drugs that existed prior to the Venezuelan government’s operations in the border regions.  The article goes on to say that representatives, mostly from the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, arrive through Venezuelan territory, while others pass through Colombia.  The article from Colombian weekly magazine Semana reports that Colombian authorities arrested a top lieutenant of Mexican trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in Cali.


Source:

“Emisarios de narcos extranjeros aterrizan en frontera con Venezuela para mediar en la guerra (Emissaries of foreign drug traffickers land on the border with Venezuela to mediate in the war),” El Colombiano (one of Medellín’s leading newspapers), 11 April 2022.  https://www.elcolombiano.com/colombia/narcos-mexicanos-llegan-a-colombia-para-frenar-guerra-criminal-en-frontera-con-venezuela-cocaina-y-armas-CH17239658

…It is in this context that Mexican drug traffickers, especially from the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, are sending emissaries that arrive at the border through Venezuelan territory and, in a few cases, pass through Colombian airports in Bogotá and Medellín… The message they are sending is there is money for everyone and they do not have to kill each other.

Source:  “Cabecilla del cartel de Sinaloa y mano derecha del Chapo Guzmán fue capturado en Cali (Leader of the Sinaloa cartel and right-hand man of Chapo Guzmán was captured in Cali),” Semana (Colombia’s leading weekly magazine), 8 April 2022.  https://www.semana.com/nacion/cali/articulo/cabecilla-del-cartel-de-sinaloa-y-mano-derecha-del-chapo-guzman-fue-capturado-en-cali/202248/

In a condominium in the exclusive residential neighborhood Ciudad Jardín, in southern Cali, the authorities captured a Mexican citizen who arrived in Colombia as an emissary of the Mexican drug trafficker, alias Mayo Zambada, successor in the Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera… The whereabouts of the emissary was known thanks to the monitoring carried out by the authorities, with infiltrated agents.


Image Information:

Image:  Violence breaks out in Ecuador during protests over the spiraling security situation
Source:  Romina Icaza via Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/asambleanacional/5018365312
Attribution:  CC BY-SA 2.0.