Above Photo: A hand inserts a ballot into a ballot box, with the flag of Ecuador in the background. File photo.
Once upon a time, Ecuador was considered an island of peace. Once upon a time, we were one of the safest countries in the continent. Once upon a time, the prisons worked, the Ministry of Justice functioned, and we felt that we had a government and a leader. A time when we saw our taxes turned into infrastructure, roads, hospitals, schools, and parks; there were fewer beggars in the streets and more children in schools.
How did a country as beautiful as Ecuador become hell?
Until recently, the hope of better winds for our nation made emigrants return with the promise of a brighter destiny, after the ferocious robbery of the bank crisis of 1999, which led to the exodus of thousands of Ecuadorians plunged into despair and poverty.
How can a bad election, a bad government do so much damage to a nation, to a people, to an economy? Plunging it into a dark abyss.
How can hatred be stronger than love, and the proverbial hospitality of Ecuadorians turn into fear?
This country that now suffers the onslaught of criminal gangs that have subjected it to horror, was until recently a peaceful and beautiful country. The country of Manuela Sáenz, the liberator of the liberator. The country of Eloy Alfaro, the intrepid Old Fighter; the country of writers Juan Montalvo, Jorge Icaza, Benjamín Carrión, and Medardo Ángel Silva. This country, as small as a handkerchief, with sea, forests, mountains and beautiful Galapagos Islands, is now bleeding to death amid violence, organized crime, and drug trafficking.
Today, no one spared in Ecuador, whether in walled citadels inside golden bubbles or in cracked and ugly poor neighborhoods. We live scared, permanently scared, in an atmosphere tense with panic. Stress, fear, the bombardment of news full of blood and violence flood our nervous system with adrenaline and, worst of all, what makes this situation worse is that we have no reference, we have no antidotes against terror, we lack the immune system of tragic history that could slow down our fear. We were always peaceful, and until recently we did not suffer the unstoppable and unsustainable violence that we are experiencing.
We heard what was happening in Colombia in the 1980s with the crimes of [druglord] Pablo Escobar, and it only seemed like material for a thrilling novel, a good drama series of violence and terror. What was happening in Peru with the Shining Path seemed as far away as the moon. What was happening in the northern states of Mexico with trafficking of women and drug traffickers seemed like something out of a movie. Suddenly we are living all of that all at once. The surprise of the knockout has left us without reaction. We feel we have no state, no nation, no sovereignty, no government, no police. Nobody takes care of us, nobody protects us, we are defenseless, with our hands up before barbarism, lost in the inhospitable jungle of every man for himself.
The mafia is embedded in the upper echelons of power. It infiltrates with its powerful tentacles government, police, military, judicial system and more. Surrounded by fear, we do not know who is who.
We live enclosed as in a second pandemic. Cornered by fear. Not a day goes by without murders, targeted killings, kidnappings, extortions, horrendous crimes with their collateral damage, shameless robberies in the light of day and under the very noses of those who have the obligation to protect us. The horror has reached the point where authorities and mayors are assassinated without blushing, and these days we are experiencing the macabre assassination of a presidential candidate for sinister political purposes.
We do not know if there will be an end, if there will be a tomorrow, but there has to be an end.
In the failed state we live in, we have fallen so far to the bottom that now all we have left to do is to go up.
All this is happening and is exacerbated on the eve of the early elections of August 20 of this year, since President Guillermo Lasso, who was being impeached by the National Assembly, decreed the Cross Death with a very clear subliminal message: before the assembly removes me from office, I will remove them from office, even though this meant the harakiri of his presidential term.
How the violence began
How did this spiral of violence begin, how did it grow and unleash this trail of fear that has been injected into our veins, preventing us from breathing?
It all began with a betrayal. The terrible political and moral betrayal of former President Lenin Moreno. He was a nobody, with no more charisma than his handicap and his sly smile, until Correa’s undeniable leadership elevated him to vice president and then to president. On his own he would not have moved a vote from the crowds who saw in him a follower of the social policies that had been imparted by the progressive government of Rafael Correa, the president who in an unstable country with periodic political turbulence (Ecuador had seven presidents between 1997 and 2007) ruled for 10 years with popular support and strengthened and stabilized a nation whose state structures were puny and weak.
Lenin is considered by many as the Trojan horse, the Pandora’s box that brought all calamities to a defenseless and naive country that believed in him. He delivered his government into the hands of obscure groups that co-governed and made gangsterism their most secure booty.
He condoned million dollar debts to big businesses, raised gasoline prices that had remained stable for 10 years, persecuted his colleagues who brought him to power, imprisoned the constitutional vice-president of Ecuador Jorge Glas without evidence or crimes, whose innocence is now internationally recognized. He destroyed his own political party and persecuted through lawfare the man who had been his mentor.
The idea was to demonize, with the consent of mainstream media, the figure of Correa and to attempt to make the word Correismo synonymous with crime and shame, to persecute the great progressive leader with the ridiculous accusation of having committed a crime by “psychic influence,” as if he were a sorcerer with supernatural and magical powers, like the medieval witches with hooked noses and warts that cast spells, and forcing, in addition, dozens of his colleagues to flee the country due to the infamous persecution of an a la carte justice system.
Lenin Moreno smashed the security system of his predecessor and eliminated the Ministry of Justice in 2018 that controlled the prisons. He cut the penitentiary budget from $163 million in 2017 to barely $90 million in 2020.
After the institutions and ministries that managed the country’s security, budgets and fiscal security policy were eliminated, the country was violently assaulted in a way never seen before by drug trafficking cartels, organized crime and gangs. These have increased unchecked during the government of Guillermo Lasso who has remained unscathed in his golden bubble, responding with useless and repeated states of exception that have shown no results, and with meaningless condolences to the families of the murdered.
The prison crisis exploded in 2021 and from there it has only grown, with more than 480 prisoners brutally murdered since 2020 until today, because the mafias maintain control in the prisons and exercise their criminal shadow spilling blood, violence and pain on the streets of the country.
Lenin, who abandoned and destroyed the social architecture of the State and governed hand in hand with the losing candidate, got on his knees before the banks and the International Monetary Fund. He is currently being prosecuted by the very prosecution that he supported in a serious case of presidential corruption that involved his family, called INA Papers.
Guillermo Lasso’s government
If many Ecuadorians believed that the puppet government of Lenin Moreno was the worst in the history of Ecuador, we fall short of words to describe what the government of Guillermo Lasso has represented for the majorities. Both governments have acted as Siamese twins born from the same womb.
Lasso’s government maintained and radicalized the policies of his predecessor. He stood out for not complying with any of his campaign promises, such as not raising taxes for Ecuadorians. Instead he impoverished citizens with his fiscal policies, he governed favoring banks and private groups. He worsened the brutal security crisis by not showing political and economic will to face it, he maintained the lack of essential equipment for the police who lack basic resources to fight criminals, and his government is involved in a wave of public corruption, such as the Pandora Papers, León de Troya, and El gran Padrino cases, which involves people close to him and his government, evidenced in audios published by journalists who have been threatened with death and who hold the current president responsible for that.
During Lasso’s administration, between 2021 and 2022, violent deaths increased by 82% compared to 2021. The country closed 2022 with its worst record in the annals of crime. The statistics showed 4,603 tragic deaths, which meant a rate of 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The Lasso government has adopted a discourse in which it blames the violence on drug trafficking gangs, arguing that it is a settling of scores aming them, and ignoring the responsibility of the state for the justice and penitentiary systems.
“Obese state” and destruction of social welfare
To abandon social welfare and remove public money of the citizens to private coffers, both Moreno’s and Lasso’s governments appealed to the vacuous discourse of the “obese state.” When the supposed “obese state” (which means investment in health, education, employment, security) is destroyed, it opens the doors to crime and drug trafficking because in the face of the excessive growth of poverty and unemployment, the tempting offers of crime and easy money become an emerging float for many Ecuadorians living in extreme poverty who survive on less than two dollars a day.
The insecurity monster
The perception of Ecuadorians is that the Lasso government has completely failed in its security policies, and has been incapable of protecting the lives of its citizens.
Apart from poverty and unemployment, the most serious problem in Ecuador is insecurity. Without security there is no investment, no entrepreneurship, no growth, no tourism. Insecurity kills the will to live. Extortions force companies to close. They sink the economy and the country risk rises. The emotional climate of the nation is one of alert and distrust. Cortisone has taken over our bodies and is making us sick. This has caused a proliferation of rambo candidates, Nayib Bukele emulators, and smoke peddlers for Ecuador’s future elections. People feel a lot of nostalgia for those days when we walked peacefully through the streets. The nostalgia is as vivid as when remembering an absent loved one.
Candidates and elections
The shocking assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio a few days before the elections, who was one of the few presidential candidates who had police custody granted by the state, was executed in extremely suspicious conditions that have given rise to many speculations, since Villavicencio was not even a favorite in the top three positions for the electoral race.
His death was apparently aimed at lowering points of the progressive candidate, who until recently was leading the polls with a wide majority of votes that would have allowed her to win in the first round.
It is not yet known how much this will affect candidate Luisa González, who was leading all polls.
The eight presidential candidacies registered to participate in the elections are: Yaku Pérez Guartambel, former presidential candidate and representative of the Claro Que Se Puede movement, Unidad Popular, Partido Socialista and Democracia Sí; businessman and economist Jan Topic, candidate of Por un País Sin Miedo, Partido Social Cristiano, Sociedad Patriótica and Centro Democrático; former Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner, of Alianza Actuemos, composed of the platforms Avanza and SUMA; Cristian Zurita of Construye Movement, who is replacing assassinated Fernando Villavicencio; businessman and former presidential candidate Xavier Hervas of Movimiento Reto; businessman and former legislator Daniel Noboa of Alianza Acción Democrática Nacional, Pueblo, Igualdad y Democracia, and Mover; Bolívar Armijos, from Movimiento Amigo; and former legislator Luisa González from Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana.
A great number of Ecuadorians have the perception that if one of the candidates representing the neoliberal right wing that has bled us dry wins, everything will remain the same, nothing will change, as if Lasso were still governing. We already know that maxim attributed to Albert Einstein who stated that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting to obtain different results. There is an urgent need to save the homeland, a need to save a country that is sinking. The urgent need for change.
The people desire and hope that we return to being the safe country that we once were, yearning for investment in social issues, medicines, hospitals, and not the obscene inequality we witnessed in the times of Lenin and María Paula Romo. The aspiration to strengthen the State with more security, health and education, today sadly undermined by neoliberal regimes that have emphasized capital over people during the pandemic that engulfed the country.
Many analysts assert that the only thing the two previous governments had to do to gain support and acceptance was to duplicate the social works of Correismo. Unfortunately, some of the current candidates are mobilized only by hate, and we all know that hate destroys, contrary to love.
Ecuador’s fascist and ultra-right forces are capable of anything. These forces have demonstrated a dishonest campaign in which they revived the old tactics of “de-dollarization” or “we are going to become Venezuela,” and resorted to brutal and repeated misogynist attacks against the only woman candidate.
The only certainty is that we Ecuadorians cannot allow ourselves to be overcome by fear. With political will, we will reverse at the ballot box a situation of violence that can and should only be transitory like pandemics and bad governments.
Aminta Buenaño is an Ecuadorian author, editor, journalist, professor, politician, and diplomat. She was a member of the National Assembly, and the vice president of the Constituent Assembly that redacted the 2008 constitution. She was the ambassador of Ecuador to Nicaragua, Spain, and Barbados.