The escalation of violence in Ecuador shines a light on country’s broader crisis

The early elections in the Andean country are taking place in a context of increased violence against political candidates and in society generally

August 17, 2023 by Ana Dagorret
Pedro Briones, a political leader and candidate for local office with the Citizen Revolution Movement was assassinated on August 14, 2023

The commotion generated in Ecuador by the assassinations of the leader of the Citizen Revolution Movement party (RC) Pedro Briones on August 14 and the presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio on August 9, has opened a debate in the country about the escalation of violence in the country.

Although the motives and perpetrators are still unknown, it is certain that the situation unleashed in Ecuador after the events raises suspicions about the influences weighing on the current administration and the direction the country will take in the coming days.

“The murder of Villavicencio is a regrettable incident that wounds our already fragile democracy” explained sociologist and communicator Irene León to ARG Medios, who is also a member of the Network of Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity (REDH). “But it is above all an expression of the escalation of violence affecting the country and resulting in large part from the deinstitutionalization that has weighed for the last six years with the return to neoliberalism.”

According to Irene León, since the arrival of former president Lenín Moreno to the government, who after being elected by Rafael Correa’s helping hand implemented an offensive against the former president and his supporters, the national security and defense system was essentially suspended. “Even the Ministry of Justice ceased to function.”

León pointed out that the product of this deinstitutionalization is the increase of political and social violence in the last six years. “According to national media, in February of this year, there were 61 [violent] attacks against politicians and 22 [politicians and candidates] were murdered. These situations, as well as the murder of Villavicencio, can only result from the chaos implanted in the country as a collateral and substantial element of neoliberalism. It is an opening that also includes all kinds of illicit businesses.”

The situation of violence extends not only to politicians but also to members of the institutions that organize and supervise the elections. “In recent days, threats against electoral advisors were made public, which is nothing more than a coercion against the electoral process itself,” explained Irene León.

Although President Guillermo Lasso confirmed that the presidential elections will not be moved, there were those who even suggested a suspension of the process and installation of a transitional government composed by the military.

In this process of increasing violence, a key element to take into account is the installation of lawfare in Ecuador. The use of justice as a tool for political persecution has contributed enormously to the social degradation that the country is experiencing. “Nothing of what is happening can be read outside lawfare. The main object of this persecution is the Citizen Revolution Movement, which has suffered the murder of four politicians [from RC],” pointed out León.

Given the evidence from polls that the RC’s presidential candidate Luisa González can win the election in the first round, the threats against her have increased. “And they are not only threats against progressivism, but there is evidence of very explicit sexist violence.”

Another element that Irene León pointed out is the influence of organized crime in the violence that has been installed in Ecuador. “Organized crime is a sort of new component of the de facto powers of global capitalism that now have even more power than the governments and in Ecuador this has been happening for six years.”

In this regard, León explained that the approach of shrinking the state seen fundamentally in the area of security is one of the consequences of the installation of neoliberalism in Ecuador. “The responsibility of the State in security matters cannot be exempted, nor can this issue be transferred to other countries to be regulated by them, as it has been said here that the United States or Israel can take control of security in our country.”

It is clear that the issue of security and the holding of elections is the exclusive responsibility of the Ecuadorian government, which although it seeks to dissociate itself from what happened with Villavicencio. The national government is directly responsible for the situation of political and social violence that Ecuador is experiencing. “International accompaniment will be necessary not only for the elections, but for the validity of our democracy overall,” concluded León.

This piece was first published in Spanish on ARG Medios.