Less than two weeks after an unprecedented outbreak of violence, the return to calm is only relative in Ecuador. Dozens of people were arrested on Sunday January 21 during an attempted assault on a hospital, a new episode of violence in this country shaken by the war with gangs.

Ecuadorian police announced the arrest of sixty-eight suspected members of a criminal organization who were trying to take over a hospital where one of their own was. “We neutralized suspected terrorists, who were seeking to take control of the facilities of a hospital in Yaguachi”, in the province of Guayas (southwest of the country), she indicated on X. According to this source, the group wanted to “protect an injured member of their organization” who had been admitted to this healthcare facility earlier that morning.

Firearms and drugs were also seized. A clandestine “re-education center”, where suspected members of the organization “were hiding”, was also searched, police said. Authorities recently closed several such centers, essentially clandestine hospitals run by gangs that authorities say lack the medical equipment needed to treat patients.

On Sunday, around ten tons of drugs were also seized near the town of Vinces, in the province of Los Rios (west), the army said on X.

Creation of an “Andean Security Network”

The same day, an emergency meeting devoted to Ecuador, undermined like never before by violence linked to drug trafficking, was held in Lima, Peru, bringing together the member countries of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN). At the end of this summit, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador announced the creation of the first “Andean security network” against organized crime, according to an official statement.

This network will guarantee “a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service to provide and receive information, and/or request information from other countries (…) on the activity of criminal groups which have, or may carry out, transnational operations,” said the CAN Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Defense.

“We have made history, we have written a new chapter of the CAN,” rejoiced the Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabriela Sommerfeld. “Fear paralyzes countries,” she stressed. We have seen that fear has paralyzed Ecuador, paralyzed investments, increased unemployment and migration.”

A country “at internal war”

The proliferation and expansion of gangs engaged in drug trafficking and racketeering in Ecuador has put border areas on alert. Peru and Colombia have strengthened their border controls, fearing the entry of criminals fleeing increasing repression in Ecuador.

Considered a relatively safe country, Ecuador has been sinking into violence for five years, against a backdrop of economic slowdown and impoverishment following the Covid-19 pandemic: the homicide rate has increased from 6 to 46 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023.

Located between Colombia and Peru, the largest producers of cocaine in the world, Ecuador has for years remained sheltered from the violence linked to drug trafficking. But from a simple transit country, it has become an operations and logistics center for shipping cocaine to Europe. And around twenty gangs literally rule the law, particularly from prisons.

A step in the terror was reached on January 9 with the live assault on public television TC by heavily armed men who briefly took journalists and employees of the channel hostage, before the police arrived to free them, arresting thirteen attackers. Eight days later, anti-mafia prosecutor Cesar Suarez, responsible for investigating this spectacular attack, was assassinated, shot dead in broad daylight in the center of Guayaquil (southwest).

President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency and declared the country “in internal war” against gangs, described as “terrorists”, deploying more than 20,000 soldiers on the ground.