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Ecuador: a prosecutor murdered in broad daylight in Guayaquil

After the assassination of prosecutor César Suarez this Wednesday in Guayaquil, the message is clear: “no one is untouchable.

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Ecuador: a prosecutor murdered in broad daylight in Guayaquil

After the assassination of prosecutor César Suarez this Wednesday in Guayaquil, the message is clear: “no one is untouchable.” The magistrate was killed by 20 bullets in broad daylight while driving his car in the economic capital of the country. César Suarez was investigating those responsible for the hostage-taking live on TC television on January 9, which shocked the entire country. For many minutes, hooded and heavily armed men threatened the staff of the current program while the broadcast continued. The journalists and technicians seemed terrified. One of them, also working for the AFP, sent a message from his phone: “They are going to kill us! ". Ultimately, the operation was more spectacular than dramatic, the 13 young people who carried out the action were arrested shortly after by the police, without having injured or killed anyone.

Suspicion fell on a powerful criminal gang: the Tiguerones. But the assassination of prosecutor Suarez may not be linked to the TC Television affair. It is possible that other people pursued by Prosecutor Suarez took the opportunity to eliminate this prosecutor deemed incorruptible.

César Suarez had many pending cases, including corruption cases. He was interested in entrepreneurs who allegedly enriched themselves illegally through sales of medical equipment to hospitals during the Covid crisis. The situation in Ecuador was so chaotic during the pandemic that some crooked entrepreneurs took advantage of the general disarray to make biased deals with health authorities.

Ecuador's Attorney General, Diana Salazar, wrote on our commitment to Ecuadorian society.” Members of the Ecuadorian judicial system are particularly targeted by criminal gangs. Two prosecutors have already lost their lives in Guayaquil in 2023.

For months, politicians have also been the subject of threats and attacks. A presidential candidate was killed in August, Fernando Villavicencio. He was a journalist and investigated the links between criminal gangs and the political world. His investigations focused on former president Rafael Correa. Six Colombians have been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the presidential candidate's crime. They were found a few weeks later hanging in their cell. The mayor of Mantas, on the Pacific coast, was shot last July. Luis Chonillo, mayor of Duran, can no longer go to his city, having almost lost his life during an attack last May.

Crime has exploded in recent years. “We went from 5.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017 (one of the lowest in the region) to 46 in 2023. This is today one of the highest rates in Latin America, notes Guillaume Long, Ecuadorian academic and former Minister of Foreign Affairs. It's absolutely dramatic. There are external factors such as changes in drug routes, and internal factors such as the weakening of the State with drastic austerity policies since 2018. The ministries of justice and that of the Interior have been deleted.”

The work of the Ecuadorian justice system has been particularly difficult for months. She is confronted with a police force, judges and an army largely infiltrated by criminal gangs. The United States Ambassador to Quito, Michael Fitzpatrick, declared a few months ago that “there are narco-generals in the police.” For Ernesto Anzieta, security secretary of the city of Quito, “until today, no senior police officer has been convicted. But at the end of 2023, a series of arrests in the ranks of the police took place. The institution is very weak and lacks credibility. New police officers are incorporated after only six months of training. They lack equipment and weapons. Many of the new recruits show little motivation and only joined to benefit from a salary, certainly modest but guaranteed, in a country where the economic crisis weighs on the entire population.

The murder of prosecutor Suarez comes at the worst time for the new president Daniel Noboa. After declaring a state of total war at the beginning of January, he deployed more than 20,000 soldiers in Guayaquil, with initial results: 1,975 people were arrested for terrorism, 5 "terrorists" were shot dead, 32 hostages released. The prisons have regained their calm. 55 pacification operations were launched which allowed the economic capital of Ecuador to regain a semblance of normality. The stores finally lifted their iron curtain and the population began to wander the streets of the city again. But the assassination of prosecutor Suarez reminds a state of the power of criminal gangs that seems powerless to stem the violence.

This Thursday, the Ecuadorian army and police launched a vast operation in the Guayaquil prison complex. “Army and police personnel are carrying out a new intervention”, in particular “to control the external and internal perimeters of the penitentiary center”, indicates the army in a press release. Many armed soldiers entered the vast complex according to AFP.

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