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Danger at every corner: How Ecuadoran city of Guayaquil became unliveable

Danger at every corner: How Ecuadoran city of Guayaquil became unliveable

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The Latin American nation of Ecuador has been experiencing an unprecedented security crisis for several months. In the port city of Guayaquil, now under the control of drug gangs, residents are living in fear.

In Ecuador’s economic capital Guayaquil, everyday life was turned upside down in early 2024. On January 9, images of a group of armed youths taking journalists hostage during a live TV broadcast went viral. The same day, several parts of the city were attacked. Guayaquil’s gangs declared war on the institutions and state of Ecuador. The government of President Daniel Noboa, who was elected in 2023, immediately declared a situation of “internal armed conflict” and imposed a state of emergency. This gave the army special powers to intervene, particularly in prisons, which had become the headquarters of the gangs.

Since then, desperate families have had no news of detainees. In Guayaquil, the army has taken control of the prisons and banned visits, as it has in most detention centres. Worrying news is reaching relatives on the outskirts of prisons. Detainees are reportedly beaten and left without medical care.

Cocaine trafficking leads to surge in organised crime and violence

In the space of just a few years, organised crime has become all-powerful in Guayaquil. Wedged between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two main producers of cocaine, Ecuador is ideally located for exporting the drug. Guayaquil, the country’s main port, has seen a rise in crime over the years. Numerous gangs share the spoils of organised crime, each specialising in a particular area: some gangs are contract killers, others are experts in extortion, while others carry out kidnappings.

For locals, Guayaquil has become unliveable. Kidnappings, extortions and crimes of all kinds can happen at any street corner. More and more people now live in gated communities. Others, if they can, choose to leave the country.

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