UN: poverty, oppression at root of Ecuador crisis


UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights Olivier De Schutter issued a report Sept. 8, citing¬†impoverishment and exploitation as the “root cause”¬†of the fast-mounting violence and instability in Ecuador. Following a 12-day visit to the country, De Schutter warned against a purely militarized response to the crisis that ignores social and economic factors. The report states:

The Special Rapporteur understands the concerns raised by the deterioration of the security in the country, in which the homicide rate has been fast increasing, and which has witnessed a worrying rise of the role of drug traffickers. The response to this trend, however, cannot be solely to strengthen law enforcement. The need to tackle organized crime should not obfuscate the important links between socio-economic conditions and the rise of crime. A vicious cycle now may be emerging. The lack of job opportunities makes the youth an easy recruit for the criminal gangs and make crime, including the smuggling of goods across borders, a desirable option. Insecurity in turn aggravates poverty, as businesses are subjected to extortion in the form of ‘vacunas’, as schools are so unsafe that some parents pull their children out, and as both insecurity and poor economic prospects favour emigration, particularly to the United States… The vicious cycle linking insecurity and poverty can be broken if the country invests more in its people, and provides better prospects to the youth.

The report emphasizes such factors as the persistence of “bonded labor,” effectively slavery, on the country’s haciendas, with Afro-Ecuadorians especially exploited to produce export cash-crops such as sugar cane and avocados. It also pointed to the degradation of the environment by the “extractivist” economic model. Noting the recent referenda rejecting hydrocarbon and mineral projects, the report found that “the era of extractivism may be coming to an end,” and called for “a new approach to development, which reduces the dependence of the country on mining and on oil and timber exploitation.”

The Special Rapporteur is to present his final report on Ecuador to the Human Rights Councilin June 2024. (Jurist, AP)

The report follows a string of prison uprisings and political assassinations in Ecuador over the past months, culminating in an auto-gopleby President Guillermo Lasso in May. In addition to political figures, members of the judiciary have been targeted by assassins.

On Sept. 2, inmates in six Ecuadorian prisons released 50 guards and seven police officers they had taken hostage 24 hours earlier. The coordinated uprising was apparently sparked by a massive weapons search, involving¬†hundreds of police officers and soldiers, at¬†Cotopaxi prison in Latacunga on Aug. 30.¬†Along with the hostage-takings, two¬†car bombs went off near official buildings in the capital, Quito‚ÄĒclaiming no casualties, but underscoring the growing threat of narco-gangs. Two other car bombs¬†targeted a bridge connected in the coastal province of El Oro. (BBC News)

Ecuadorian authorities attribute the¬†spike in violence¬†to a power vacuum following the 2020¬†assassination of Jorge Zambrano AKA “Rasqui√Īa,”¬†leader of Los Choneros gang. Members of this and rival networks carry out contract killings, run extortion operations, move and sell drugs, and rule prisons.¬†(AP)

Image: Nicolas Raymond via Flickr