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FLASH ALERT: ECUADORIAN OFFICIALS FOUND DEAD | ECUADOR RISK FURTHER DESTABILIZATION, LOSS OF LIFE, AND EROSION OF PUBLIC TRUST IN THE GOVERNMENT’S ABILITY TO MAINTAIN SECURITY AND ORDER

Lydia Baccino, Marta Vanti, Enrico Dal Cin, Siddhesh Shimpukade, Ignacio Minuesa SOUTHCOM 

Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor

March 24, 2024

                                       

Violence is on the Rise in Ecuadorean Cities[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to local Ecuadorian law enforcement, political officials, and citizens following the assassination of San Vicente’s Mayor Brigitte Garcia in Ecuador. Early Sunday, Garcia and her communication director, Jairo Loor Meza, were found dead. Garcia’s family reported her missing one day prior. Local police have stated on X “… two people were identified inside a vehicle without vital signs, with injuries from a firearm impact…" During current investigations law enforcement have suggested that the gunshots "would not have been made from the outside of the vehicle but from the inside.”[2]This is of concern due to the vehicle being a rental requiring the driver's routes to be analyzed. This is the latest case of political violence which saw Mayor Augustin Intriago of Manta killed by a gunman last year.[3] Violence between drug trafficking gangs has risen since the leader of the Los Choneros gang, Adolfo “Fito” Macías, escaped from the Guayaquil prison.[4] Ecuador risks further destabilization, loss of life, and erosion of public trust in the government’s ability to maintain security and order.


CTG is on HIGH alert following the deaths of Mayor Garcia and her communication advisor Loor Meza. The violent act against elected officials and their staff, not only threatens the political stability of the but very LIKELY raises further potential risks for other officials and the wider community. The deaths raise serious concerns about the safety and security of the region. The attack LIKELY points to a planned attack, which potentially points to the existence of organized crime groups that target individuals operating in the public eye. The incident very LIKELY calls for heightened awareness of potential future acts of violence. In the long term, this could lead to an atmosphere of instability and fear.


Introduction 

On March 24, 2024, at approximately 0100 local time Brigitte Garcia, Ecuador's youngest mayor, and her communication director Jairo Loor Meza, were found dead from gunshot wounds inside a rented vehicle parked in the beach area of Punta Nabo, San Vicente. She  was reported missing by her family since midday March 23. Initial police investigations ruled out linking the event to a robbery as the victims were still in possession of their personal effects, and the forensic specialists added that the victims died inside the vehicle.[5]


The deaths occurred amid the state of emergency implemented by Ecuador's government in early January, to address the escalating violence linked to drug trafficking and to loosen the grip of drug gangs operating in the country. The incident also follows several assassinations, taking place over nearly two years, targeting mayors, politicians, and aspiring candidates in Ecuador's political system. In July 2023, Mayor Augustin Intriago was shot dead in the coastal town of Manta, by a lone gunman. In August 2023, presidential candidate and anti-corruption politician, Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated in Quito by gunmen following several threats. Following the incident in Punta Nabo, Ecuador’s government and interior ministry released a statement expressing their condolences to the family, and ensuring that the government will not lower its guard in the fight against terrorism, organized crime and political corruption.[6]


Analysis

Drug-related violence will likely increase in the Manabi Province, very likely in response to the escape of gang leader Fito from prison, the criminal networks becoming more organized, as well as their retaliatory tendency more prevalent. Local government workers and individuals with close ties to the  San Vicente government will very likely continue to be targets of drug-trafficking organizations, very likely resulting from President Daniel Noboa branding such organizations as terrorists. 


The ongoing instability will also very likely be a direct threat to public safety and will likely instill a lack of trust in local authorities. The community may potentially question their ability to prevent these incidents and provide sufficient public security measures for government officials throughout the country, for the duration of the state of emergency.


The government will likely increase security protocols in Manabi Province following Garcia's death. There will likely be some progress in the investigation, with law enforcement. Military involvement is probable, given their role in responding to drug-related violence. The state of emergency will likely continue until major trafficking groups are addressed, highlighting the importance of effective investigative practices by law enforcement.


Recommendations

  • The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends a multi-faceted approach to address the complex challenges highlighted by the assassination of Mayor Brigitte Garcia. Enhancing security measures is imperative to deter further violence and ensure public safety. This includes deploying additional law enforcement personnel to San Vicente and other high-risk areas, bolstering presence and surveillance to maintain order and prevent criminal activities.

  • Law enforcement efforts to provide support to the affected community should be implemented.  Offering counseling and support services to residents of San Vicente affected by the violence will help address immediate needs.

  • Addressing the underlying factors contributing to drug-related violence must happen first.  It is essential to strengthen law enforcement capacity. Investing in training and equipping law enforcement agencies to combat drug trafficking and organized crime effectively will enhance their ability to prevent and respond to future incidents of violence.

  • Addressing socio-economic factors is essential in tackling the root causes of violence. Implementing social programs and economic development initiatives in regions affected by drug-related violence will help alleviate poverty and create opportunities, reducing vulnerability to criminal exploitation.

  • CTG recommends fostering collaboration and information sharing among law enforcement, government agencies, and community organizations is vital. Establishing multi-agency task forces and partnerships will facilitate coordinated efforts in combating drug trafficking and maintaining security, ensuring a unified and effective response to the challenges at hand.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH, due to the risk of drug-related violence and organized crime. The assassination of Garcia the immediate threat posed by drug-trafficking groups. The networks operated by these groups vie for control over territories, leading to violent power struggles and turf wars that directly impact citizens, the local community, and decision makers. Subsequent attacks and retaliatory actions are very likely as rival factions seek dominance. There is a heightened risk of the targeting of public officials, given the similar attacks on politicians and law enforcement personnel that have taken place previously.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY of continued violence and instability in Ecuador, particularly in regions affected by drug trafficking. The assassination of Mayor Brigitte Garcia will LIKELY indicate the threat criminal elements pose to public safety and national stability. Without action by authorities to address the root causes of drug-related violence, such as poverty, corruption, and weak law enforcement, the cycle of violence is LIKELY to persist. This will LIKELY lead to further attacks on public officials, law enforcement personnel, and civilians, creating a culture of fear and undermining trust in government institutions. The escalation of violence will LIKELY have implications for regional security and stability, necessitating both a local and regional response to mitigate organized crime throughout Ecuador. 

 

[1] Law Enforcement, generated by third party database

[2] Informamos, X, March 24 2024

[3] Agustín Intriago: Ecuadorian mayor shot dead in port city, BBC, July 2023,

[4] Ecuador: Brigitte García, mayor of San Vicente, was shot dead in Manabí, El Comercio, March 2024, https://elcomercio.pe/mundo/latinoamerica/ecuador-asesinan-a-tiros-a-brigitte-garcia-alcaldesa-de-san-vicente-en-manabi-los-choneros-adolfo-macias-guayaquil-ultimas-noticia/ (Translated by Google)

[5] Actualización, X, March 24 2024

[6] Ministerio de Gobierno Ecuador, X, March 24 2024

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