The national and regional impact of Ecuador’s raids in Mexico | Explained

The story so far: A political and diplomatic chasm has split Latin America. The epicentre of the crisis is Ecuador’s capital Quito; the immediate trigger was a police raid on the Mexican Embassy to arrest a political opponent convicted of corruption. President Daniel Noboa, in an unprecedented move, ordered raids on the embassy to arrest Jorge David Glas, a former Vice-President in the administration of leftist former President Rafael Correa. Mr. Glas had sought shelter at the Embassy since December, a month after Mr. Noboa came to power, and was later given political asylum by Mexico. The raid was an “exceptional decision,” taken “to protect national security, the rule of law and the dignity of a population that rejects any type of impunity for criminals, corrupt people or narco-terrorists,” Mr. Noboa said.

Critics say the raids are partly designed to boost Mr. Noboa’s image and yield short-term political gains. The young President is facing criticism for being unable to control crime, and has rallied support for a military crackdown on gang violence, the fate of which will be decided through a referendum on April 21.

The raids, however, have earned Mr. Noboa international opprobrium for violating international laws. Mexico has broken diplomatic relations with the South American nation and plans to appeal at the International Court of Justice that Ecuador be suspended from the United Nations — unless it extends an apology. 

What is the political context?

The politics of Ecuador is tied to the security and safety of Ecuadorians. The once-peaceful Andean nation of 18 million people has seen crime and gang violence explode since 2016. Ecuador, because of its geography and permeable borders, sits as a transit hub for drugs moving from Colombia and Peru. In 2009, a policy by the then-Correa Government expelled the U.S. forces from its territory, weakening Ecuador’s ability to stave off entry and deter distribution of drugs within the country. The operation of drug cartels has boomed: Ecuador was by 2019 among the top exporters of cocaine to the world, and within its borders, sheltered at least three major international crime groups. According to government estimates, almost 40,000 drug gang members operate in the country, equal to the number of soldiers in Ecuador’s army. The drug trafficking industry, mixed with an overcrowded and corrupt penal system, has sparked a crime wave: rampant prison riots, prison breaks, loot, kidnapping, cocaine trafficking, murders and political assassinations. Journalist and Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated on the campaign trail in August last year; mayor Jorge Maldonado, who was shot dead on April 19, was the fifth Ecuadorian mayor to be assassinated in the last year.

The government on its part has largely failed to make dents in or address the structural roots of the violence, analyst Carla Álvarez at the Institute for Advanced National Studies told The New York Times last year. The Correa Government’s reputation had been sullied due to a growing number of corruption and graft charges. Mr. Glas, who was in power from 2013 to 2017, was previously convicted of taking bribes in a scandal involving the construction giant Odebrecht; he also faces legal proceedings for alleged embezzlement in reconstruction projects after the 2016 earthquake. Mr. Glas is a “symbol of corruption in Ecuador,” scholar Esteban Nicholls told AFP.

Daniel Noboa in his presidential bid in 2023 pledged to weed out drugs, gang violence and corruption from the land. This promise resonated in a nation where homicide rates have almost tripled from 13.7 per 100,000 people in 2021 to 45 in 2023, making Ecuador one of the top three most violent nations in Latin America.

What about the timing of the raids?

Mr. Noboa last year stood as a credible outsider presenting the vision of a safer Ecuador, one leading a revolt against narco-terrorism and avowing to undo the “old paradigms” plaguing the country. “We will not negotiate with terrorists and we will not rest until we have returned peace to Ecuadorians,” Mr. Noboa said in January. The 36-year-old’s hard-line policies — such as building high-security prisons and a 90-day state of emergency in January — haven’t emerged as permanent solutions. The emergency was imposed after Los Choneros gang leader Aldolfo Macias (or ‘Fito’), among Ecuador’s most dangerous criminals, escaped from his cell. Mr. Noboa also signed a declaration of “internal armed conflict”, a decree naming 22 criminal gangs as terrorist organisations. “We are at war,” he told a radio station. The decree allowed the government to employ the military as a pacification tactic: the government deployed soldiers in public spaces and moved to reestablish control in prisons.

Murder rates dipped initially but boomeranged soon after. The coastal city of Guayaquil was overrun by gangs as recently as January; there was a surge of violence over the April Easter weekend with more than 100 deaths in a mere three days. The escape and failed capture of Fito further emboldened Mr. Noboa’s detractors. The President appears to be failing on the litmus test of crime rates, corruption and narco-terrorism policies, jeopardising his popularity and approval ratings.

The police raids also hint at growing fraught relations with Mexico. A conflict has emerged between the 70-year-old Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the 36-year-old Mr. Noboa, currently the world’s youngest democratically elected serving state leader. On April 3, Mr. Obradar questioned the result of the 2023 elections in which Mr. Noboa won; Mr. Noboa responded by declaring Mr. Obrador persona non grata and expelled the Mexican ambassador. Mexico, two days later, announced political asylum to Mr. Glas. Mr. Orabadar called the subsequent raids an “authoritarian action,” taken only when “weak governments that do not have popular support or capacity” come to power.

According to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, embassies are protected, “inviolable” spaces — not technically “foreign soil,” but territories that enjoy immunity when carrying out the sovereign functions in the country where they are located. “The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission,” the Convention states. The “rule of inviolability,” however, may mean that political opponents may avoid arrest by taking shelter in foreign embassies. “Some government use their embassy as a facade of political refuge, but it’s actually to save criminals from their sentence,” Mr. Noboa said in an interview. He also said that Mr. Glas posed an “imminent” flight risk, the government was aware of “a plan to escape” and the raids are part of his “fight against impunity.”

Last year, Ecuador’s transport minister Maria de los Angeles Duarte, sentenced to eight years imprisonment for a bribery charge, escaped to Venezuela after living in the Argentine embassy in Quito. A diplomatic row soon emerged between Ecuador and Argentina.

Is there international backlash?

Mr. Noboa has also set himself against the diplomatic order for now. All Latin American countries, with the exception of El Salvador, have condemned Ecuador’s raids on the Mexico Embassy. The break was “unwarranted and unjustified,” the Organisation of American States said; the European Union condemned it as a violation of the Vienna Convention in force for six decades. Ally U.S. has not entirely condemned Ecuador but ambiguously reiterated the “obligation of host countries under international law to respect the inviolability of diplomatic missions.” Mexico, for now, has broken diplomatic relations with Ecuador and approached the United Nations.

The diplomatic rupture between Mexico and Ecuador has put regional security under the radar. The raids “could set a very dangerous precedent, and that’s very concerning for the stability of diplomatic relations in the region,” wrote scholars Fabio Andrés Díaz Pabón and Maria Gabriela Palacio in a Conversation article. Without any reconciliation, the spat could prove counterproductive to Ecuador’s narcoterrorism pursuits, and further jeopardise migrant safety. Ecuador is a point of transit for migrants attempting to reach Mexico and cross into North America; the provocation poses “serious risks in a region where illicit economies, violence and forced migration are spiralling out of control,” the scholars noted.

There are also trade and geopolitical variables on the line. The two countries have modest trade relations: Ecuador contributes only 0.038% to Mexico’s imports and its share of Mexico’s exports was just 0.1%, according to official figures. The diplomatic tiff could still fuel commercial instability. Mexico has put on hold its negotiations with Ecuador on a free trade deal that would have allowed the latter to join the Pacific Alliance trade bloc.

Ecuador maintains that Mexico’s political asylum is a violation of laws in the first place. “No nation can give political asylum to someone [an ordinary prisoner] if they have a sentence”, Mr. Noboa said in an interview with SBS News, saying that this amounts to getting involved in the sovereignty and judicial systems of different nations.

Why is the April 21 referendum important?

Mr. Noboa entered office as a political outsider, taking over the Presidency after a snap election was called in November 2023. The leader is up for re-election in May 2025. The display of force, through raids, may hurt Mr. Noboa’s international repute but reinforces his standing on the domestic political stage, according to analysts. The raids could “bolster his domestic credibility”, strengthen his “appeal to voters looking for strong leadership and a new direction for the country,” placing him favourably for next year, wrote analyst Sebastian Hurtado in Americas Quarterly.

Ecuador on April 21 voted in a referendum to decide if the government can further increase security tactics to fight gang violence. The proposed measures include formally authorising military presence on the streets and including harsher prison sentences for gang-related crimes. The referendum is the first political test of Mr. Noboa’s popularity, and of his declaration of an ‘uncompromising’ war on crime and impunity.

The local reaction is cleaved along political lines: one side sees value in Mr. Noboa’s message of fighting crime with force, while the other worries about the authoritarian undertones driving these actions. The raids, even if a gamble, may buoy support for the referendum, boost Mr. Noboa’s image as an ‘action man’ and find appeal among Ecuadorians disillusioned with a status quo paralysing their way of life. “The priority is to clean, sanitize, continue with a process as important as President Noboa’s to put the house in order,” college professor Gabriela Sandoval told AP, calling the raids a “courageous act.” Observers are drawing parallels between Mr. Noboa and El Salvador’s president Nayib Buklee who, through similar hard-line tactics against drug and gang violence, won a second mandate in power. The incident had no international “upside,” Mr. Hurtado told FT, but “shows of force and radical action have served the president before”, especially at a time when there is a growing public desire for justice and safety.

At the same time, Mr. Noboa’s referendum served a dual political purpose: to deepen militarisation and block public dissent, wrote Mr. Pabón and Ms. Palacio. The reform wants to fight “terrorists” and “narco-terrorism” but its content is “ambiguous.”

“It is feared the government could use it to suppress protest, for example, when it comes to opposition to the government’s extractive policy,” they write. Put differently, a government that feels emboldened to violate international law would have a similar disregard for domestic laws. Moreover, “going rogue inside the embassy of a neighbouring country in the name of fighting corruption” is not going to aid Ecuador in tackling its complicated challenges, The Hindu’s editorial noted.

Mr. Noboa has discounted the “strongman” label in favour of being seen as “someone who is fair,” he told SBS News. “If he would have escaped, I would have been too weak in front of everyone. Now that I have caught the guy, I’m too strong. It’s difficult to please everyone,” he said.

When asked if he has regrets, Mr. Noboa said “zero”, because “we’re on the right side of history”. On plans of resolution he said, “I will invite President [Obrador] to have a ceviche. We can probably have some tacos together. And then we can talk…whenever he’s ready.”

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‘Haiti is a country that’s drowning’: Migrants recount trauma of fleeing home

Thousands of people have fled Haiti’s capital in recent weeks as gangs continue to run riot in a country plunged into political chaos. More than 2,000 thousand kilometres from Port-au-Prince, a community centre in New York’s Rockland County is welcoming Haitians who have fled the violence. But while they have finally reached the safety of the US, they also bear traumatic memories. 

The Konbit Neg Lakay community centre is one of the first stops that many Haitian migrants make after arriving in New York. The centre’s name means “Together for a Stronger Community” in Creole and it’s a welcoming place for people who have just fled the unrest and gang violence wracking Haiti.

The mural on the centre’s exterior wall brings a splash of colour to the Spring Valley neighbourhood in New York’s Rockland County.

Mural on the wall of Konbit Neg Lakay Haitian Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland County, New York on 20 March 2024. © Jessica Le Masurier

It depicts an idyllic scene of rural life in Haiti but the centre’s director Renold Julien experienced some tough times in the country of his birth.

He was an activist in Haiti during what has come to be called the Papa/Baby Doc dictatorship years. From the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier was succeeded by son, Jean-Claude, “Baby Doc”, the Haitian regime became synonymous with torture and killings.

Julian left his homeland almost four decades ago for a new life in the US. He opened his community centre, to help other Haitians navigate their arrival in New York, 37 years ago.

The centre receives grants from foundations and NGOs but it struggles to raise enough funds to meet ever increasing demands. For Julien, Konbit Neg Lakay is a work of devotion. 

Konbit Neg Lakay provides newly arrived Haitians with immigration and job services, professional training and language classes. “Everything that an immigrant needs, we have it here,” Julien explains. It struggles to raise enough funds to meet ever increasing demands but for Julien: “It’s a privilege for me to help my brothers and sisters.”

‘We ran to escape from them’

Several Haitians migrants come through a US humanitarian programme but they need a sponsor, Julien explains. Others travel through Mexico and then claim asylum in the US.

A dozen new arrivals from Haiti walk through the centre’s doors every week – many have lost family members to the gang violence back home.

“It has been extremely busy here due to the situation in Haiti because thousands of Haitians have been forced to leave,” says Julien as he  introduces three women who need advice on how to get a job and other essential information.

One of them is a soft-spoken medical student who arrived in the US in November 2023. Kartika Sari Rene, 22, did not want to leave Haiti. She was in her third year of medical school, when her studies were cut short. 

“I was walking with some friends and then some kidnappers were passing by,” she says. “We ran to escape from them. We hid from them. It was really awful.”

Rene’s father was terrified for her safety and forced her to leave the country. She came to the US with her mother, sponsored by family members living in New York. She has started learning English and has obtained a certificate to work as a personal care aide. 

For now, her dream of becoming a pediatrician is on hold. “I love to help people. I can’t stand to see people suffer,” she explains. 

Her friends at medical school in Haiti have also had to pause their studies. It is too dangerous for them to leave their homes.

‘Long, difficult and uncomfortable journey’

Haitian beautician Josette Bienaise also had to flee the country after a traumatic experience. She was shopping in the market when armed gang members started shooting at vendors. “Pap, pap pap,” she says, recounting her experience that day. “I lay down on the ground terrified and prayed. I can still feel the fear in my body.”

In the Konbit Neg Lakay hallway, Jean Marc Mathurin leans against a wall as he recounts the arduous journey that he made to walk through these doors to safety.

“They killed my father,” he confides in a low voice. “He was leaving work at the airport, and they wanted to take his money. He said no, and they murdered him. Then they came and burnt our home. My mother suffered so much she became ill, her sickness killed her.” 

Haitian migrant Jean Marc Mathurin at Konbit Neg Lakay Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland Country, New York 20 March 2024.
Haitian migrant Jean Marc Mathurin at Konbit Neg Lakay Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland Country, New York 20 March 2024. © Jessica Le Masurier

Mathurin finds a photo of his mother in a hospital bed on his phone and videos of his two young children and the three sisters he left behind in Haiti. He arrived in New York with nothing. He is claiming asylum in the US, but it will be many months before he can legally work here and start sending money back home to his loved ones.

Each time he eats, he thinks of his family going hungry. “People in Haiti sell their homes to make the journey here thinking they will arrive in the US with something but they spend every penny along the way, or thieves steal their money and they get here with nothing, if they even make it here. Some of them get sent back home,” he explains.

There were many times along his escape from Haiti when Mathurin thought he would not make it. He took a flight from Port-au-Prince to Nicaragua, where he travelled mainly on foot to Honduras, Guatemala and into Mexico. “It was a long, difficult and uncomfortable journey.”

When he got to the Rio Grande, in Mexico, he thought it might be impossible to cross. He describes the buoys, erected by the local authorities to thwart migrants, anchored to the riverbed. The buoys have blades that cut you if you try to climb over them, he said.

Mathurin is unable to forget the horrors he witnessed. “There are those who know how to swim, and those who don’t,” he says. “In front of me were two men, a Venezuelan and a Haitian, and they drowned right in front of me.” 

It’s a trauma he likened to his ancestral land. “Haiti is a country that’s drowning. It’s a child without a mother or father. When you have a mum and dad, they tell you not to go out late, not to fall in with the wrong crowd. Haiti is an orphan.”

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Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign in bid to restore calm

Haiti’s unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, will step down once a transition council and temporary replacement have been appointed, he said on Monday, after leading the Caribbean country since the 2021 assassination of its last president.

Armed gangs massively grew their wealth, influence and territory under his administration, prompting Henry to travel to Kenya in late February to secure its support for a United Nations-backed security mission to help police.

However, the conflict dramatically escalated in his absence and left the 74-year-old neurosurgeon stranded in the US territory of Puerto Rico while regional leaders called for a swift transition.

“The government that I am leading will resign immediately after the installation of (a transition) council,” Henry said in a video address. “I want to thank the Haitian people for the opportunity I had been granted.”

“I’m asking all Haitians to remain calm and do everything they can for peace and stability to come back as fast as possible,” he added.

‘Unclear’ if Haiti PM Ariel Henry will return after resignation

Videos distributed on Haitian social media appeared to show celebrations in the street, with people dancing to music in a party atmosphere and fireworks launched into the night sky.

A senior US official said Henry was free to remain in Puerto Rico or travel elsewhere, though security in Haiti would need to improve for him to feel comfortable returning home. The official said the resignation had been decided on Friday.

Presidential council

Henry is set to be replaced by a presidential council that will have two observers and seven voting members, including representatives from a number of coalitions, the private sector, civil society and one religious leader.

The council has been mandated to quickly appoint an interim prime minister; anyone who intends to run in Haiti’s next elections will not be able participate.

Read moreHow a lack of leadership allowed gangs to take over Haiti

Haiti has lacked elected representatives since early 2023 and its next elections will be the first since 2016. Henry, who many Haitians consider corrupt, had repeatedly postponed elections, saying security must first be restored.

Regional leaders met on Monday in nearby Jamaica to discuss the framework for a political transition, which the US had urged last week to be “expedited” as armed gangs sought to topple his government.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had earlier Monday said the council would be tasked with meeting the “immediate needs” of Haitians, enabling the security mission’s deployment and creating security conditions necessary for free elections.

Haiti declared a state of emergency early this month as clashes damaged communications and led to two prison breaks after Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, a leader of an alliance of armed groups, said they would unite and overthrow Henry.

More mission funds

Henry’s resignation comes alongside regional talks over participation in an international force, which he had requested to help police fight the gangs, whose brutal turf wars have fueled a humanitarian crisis, cut off food supplies and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier Monday the United States would contribute an additional $100 million to this force and $33 million in humanitarian aid, bringing the US’ total pledge to the force to $300 million.

Read moreEmergency summit in Jamaica to address spiraling instability in Haiti

It was however unclear how long it will take the funding to be approved by lawmakers and transferred. A UN spokesperson said that as of Monday, less than $11 million had been deposited into the UN’s dedicated trust fund – with no new contributions since Haiti declared its state of emergency on March 3.

Mexico’s foreign minister added that the country had contributed an unspecified amount of funds, and called for more action to stem the trafficking of arms to Haiti.

The UN believes Haitian gangs have amassed large arsenals of weapons trafficked largely from the United States.

The United Nations estimates over 362,000 people have been internally displaced, half of whom are children, and thousands have been killed in the overall conflict, with widespread reports of rape, torture and ransom kidnappings since 2021.

‘A bloody revolution’

In Haiti, gang leader Cherizier has threatened to go after hotel owners hiding politicians or collaborating with Henry. He demanded that the country’s next leader be chosen by the people and live in Haiti, alongside their families.

Many influential Haitian political figures live abroad.

“We’re not in a peaceful revolution. We are making a bloody revolution in the country because this system is an apartheid system, a wicked system,” Cherizier said.

Residents in the capital saw heavy gunfire over the weekend as armed men downtown surrounded the National Palace on Friday night and by Sunday the United States airlifted staff from its embassy. On Monday, authorities extended a nightly curfew until Thursday.

Washington said it was looking to expedite the deployment of the planned security mission.

Henry first requested an international security force in 2022, but countries have been slow to offer support, with some raising doubts over the legitimacy of Henry’s unelected government amid widespread protests.

Many in Haitian communities and abroad are wary of international interventions after previous UN missions left behind a devastating cholera epidemic and sex abuse scandals, for which reparations were never made.

Mike Ballard, intelligence director at security firm Global Guardian, said if gangs take control of ports and airports, they would be in charge of humanitarian aid to the country, adding that he did not believe Kenyan forces would effectively police or maintain peace.

“Countries with actual stakes in the region will need to step up and help shore up security,” he said, pointing to the United States, neighboring Dominican Republic and other CARICOM members.


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How a lack of leadership allowed gangs to take over Haiti

Haiti has descended into a state of chaos and despair in recent years, with gangs seizing control of large swaths of the nation and imposing their rule through fear, violence and extortion. FRANCE 24 spoke to expert Rosa Freedman on what paved the way for gangs to take hold of the Caribbean nation.

Haiti is teetering on the brink of a full-blown civil conflict as organised gangs, wielding control over large swaths of the country, are mounting an offensive.

With a power vacuum left behind after democratically elected president Jovenel Mosie was assassinated in 2021, and with a beleaguered police force of only 10,000 officers to protect the country’s more than 11 million inhabitants, gangs are becoming ever more powerful.

Gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, also known as “Barbecue”, launched a coordinated assault against acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry last week, threatening “civil war that will lead to genocide” if he does not step down. Cherizier last week claimed that his G9 and other rival gangs had revived a non-aggression pact called Viv Ansanm (“Living together” in Haitian Creole) to topple the interim government.

Gangs have targeted infrastructure in the country, including its main international airport, a police academy and an attack on two key prisons in its capital Port-au-Prince that allowed thousands of inmates to escape over the weekend and led the government to declare a state of emergency.

The UN Security Council has called the situation “critical” and fears of widespread violence are mounting. Despite plans for a Kenyan-led police mission to bring stability to the Caribbean nation being initially blocked by a Nairobi court, the two countries finally signed a ‘reciprocal agreement‘ last week. But Kenyan trooper boots have yet to touch Haitian soil.

Almost 4,000 people were killed and 3,000 kidnapped in gang-related violence in 2023, according to the UN.

Turmoil and gang-related violence in Haiti has deep roots, with economic and political instability intensified by the Moise’s assassination. His killing sent the country into a downward spiral to near failed-state status.

The majority of supreme court judges have left office and the last remaining 10 senators in Haiti’s parliament left the country in January 2023. Haiti has not held legislative elections since October 2019 and – with all local authorities’ mandates now expired – the question of whether the interim government will finally hold elections hangs over acting PM Henry’s political legitimacy.

But Haiti’s fragility is also a legacy of past hardships. Crippling “reparations” the country was forced to pay France after it gained independence in 1804 left the country’s economy in tatters, as did the enduring impact of the Duvalier dictatorship that lasted several decades. The devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed tens of thousands of Haitians also set the country back years in terms of economic development.

FRANCE 24 spoke to Professor Rosa Freedman, a professor of law and conflict at the University of Reading and a Haiti specialist, to understand how and why gangs are taking control.

Who are behind Haitian gangs and how did they come into power?

Rosa Freedman: There is a triangle in Haiti that is interconnected. The triangle is between the government, the elites and the gangs. Sometimes they work with one another and sometimes they appear to be working against one another.

The leader of the G9 gang who is known as “Barbecue” was a former police officer. There are questions as to whether or not he left the police force or was pushed out of it by the government. He is not only the leader of his own gang but of a coalition of gangs who advocate that they are trying to protect the people living in abject poverty, particularly in the slums but also in rural communities, from the elites and from the corrupt government. He is calling for Ariel Henry to resign.

At the same time, there are many other voices on the ground, particularly in civil society, who are also calling for Henry to resign. But they aren’t supporting this gang leader – who himself has committed grave atrocities – or members of his gang or allied gangs.

There is [speculation] as to whether or not the government, or international actors – or both – are arming some of these gangs to try and cause civil unrest to [help] depose Henry.

It is complex. You have to understand every bit of what is going on in Haiti to understand the role the gangs play. And within that, you have to understand the history of Haiti and the history of interference, particularly from the US but also from other countries.

Haiti was the first Black sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere. But because of the reparations it was forced to pay to France, Haiti was never allowed to really govern itself because it’s always been reliant on international intervention or on aid or other kind of charity.

The taking away of Haiti’s military –  the demobilisation of its armed forces –  also played a huge role. Haiti only [reestablished] a military in 2017. Before that there was a vacuum in which gangs could gain power very quickly. 

And when populist left-wing leaders like [former president] Jean-Bertrand Aristide were deposed by international actors […] it left a vacuum within the populist movement and it left a vacuum for the gangs to take power.

When Colombian mercenaries assassinated president Jovenel Moise [in 2021], Haiti went back to a situation where the corrupt elite have all the money and gangs are talking about populism while also fighting for power and money.

What is their end goal?

Freedman: Some of these gang members are doing it because they want revolution: They want to protect people from starvation, from corruption. They want to have free and fair elections. Others are doing it because they want power and they want money.

It is very difficult to be able to unpack and differentiate between the different reasons within each gang, let alone within each coalition.

For example, gangs broke into prisons to allow prisoners to escape. Many of those prisoners will be members of the gang. But at the same time, many prisoners were actually there in pre-trial detention, against their fundamental human rights, languishing in the most terrible conditions that go against all sorts of international standards for many years – without even a chance of having access to a fair trial.

The different motivations from different actors sometimes compete and sometimes are actually complementary.

There may be common goals: of having Henry resign and having a new government. But what that government looks like will look different to different gangs. Some may want to have gang leaders in power in some form of dictatorship, others may be wanting free and fair elections.

There is no way to know what each individual gang leader – or coalitions of gangs – truly want.

What could challenge the power of these gangs?

Freedman: The Kenyan-led intervention is not going to solve the problem of gangs. These are not people that speak the local languages. They don’t understand the Haitian context. They don’t understand the climate in which these gangs are operating or even the roads they’re walking down.

The best-case scenario that I see is that countries who are part of the Group of Friends of Haiti – so Canada, Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba … countries that know Haiti, that understand the context, the culture, the climate, that are allied with Haiti and that are regional neighbours – they go in and support the police, the military, the Haitian infrastructure, to bring this violence to an end.

The world has turned Haiti into a failed state by intervening constantly and preventing Haitians [from] coming up with Haitian solutions for Haitian problems, preventing Haitians from choosing who will rule over them.

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Diana Salazar, the prosecutor spearheading Ecuador’s fight against ‘narcopolitics’

Attorney General Diana Salazar is the leading figure in Ecuador’s fight against “narcopolitics”. As the country’s top prosecutor, her revelations have already led to the arrest of several high-level officials, including judges and other prosecutors accused of involvement in organised crime linked to drug trafficking. 

Ecuador is waging a war against the rise of “narcopolitics” and the powerful drug gangs who have infiltrated the country’s political system. Leading the fight is Attorney General Diana Salazar, who has launched what she described as the country’s “largest operation against corruption and drug trafficking in history”. 

Nicknamed the “Ecuadorian Loretta Lynch” after the US attorney general who served under Barack Obama, Salazar launched “Caso Metastasis” – a vast investigation into collusion between drug traffickers and government officials – following the October 2022 death in prison of powerful drug lord Leandro Norero.

More than 900 people took part in the investigation, which resulted in more than 75 raids and 30 arrests in mid-December. 

Ecuador has descended into chaos in recent weeks, with drug gangs going on a violent rampage. Hundreds of prison staff were taken hostage, a TV station was attacked live on air and explosions were reported in several cities. The latest violence erupted soon after the escape from prison of notorious crime boss Jose Adolfo Macias, known as “Fito”, the leader of Los Choneros, the country’s biggest gang. Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa said earlier this month that the country was in a “state of war” against the drug cartels behind the violence.

Most recently, a prosecutor investigating the brief siege of the TV station was shot dead on Wednesday in the port city of Guayaquil. 

In a statement on X following the murder, Salazar vowed to continue Ecuador’s fight against drug gangs, saying “organised crime groups, criminals, terrorists will not stop our commitment to Ecuadoran society”. 

Ecuador’s first Black, female attorney general 

A well-known figure on Ecuador’s anti-corruption scene, Salazar, 42, is the country’s first Black woman to hold the position of attorney general.  

She comes from the northern Andean city of Ibarra, where local media says she grew up in a modest family, raised by a single mother of four. 

Salazar moved to Quito when she was 16 for high school. At the age of 20, while still a law student at the Central University of Ecuador, Salazar began working as an assistant prosecutor in the Pichincha provincial prosecutor’s office. By 2011 she had become the public prosecutor for the southern part of the province. 

Salazar, who later started handling cases involving organised crime and corruption, came to prominence when she led the investigation into the “Fifa Gate” affair in 2015, resulting in a 10-year prison sentence for Ecuador’s former football chief Luis Chiriboga for money laundering.   

Salazar also helped prosecute Ecuador’s former vice president Jorge Glas, who was implicated in a corruption case against Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. 

Led by Salazar, the investigation revealed that Glas, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 2017, received $13.5 million in bribes from Odebrecht. 

“The Odebrecht affair was a real test for Diana Salazar,” said Sunniva Labarthe, a doctor in political sociology at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris. “A lot of people thought she would be quickly removed from office as a consequence, but she’s managed to hold her ground … It shows that she is a credible and stable figure.” 

Salazar was elected attorney general for the first time in 2019. “In Ecuador, the attorney general position – known as ‘the fiscal’ – has become extremely important and scrutinised since the ministry of justice was abolished in 2018,” Labarthe said.  

Salazar even went after former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) who in 2020 was sentenced to eight years in absentia for corruption and who later fled to Belgium

In 2021 Salazar was given an Anti-Corruption Champions Award by the US State Department, which said her “courageous actions in tackling these cases have made immense contributions to transparency and the rule of law in Ecuador”. 

Operation Metastasis

In a video message addressed to the public in December 2023, Salazar said that her office had uncovered a “criminal structure” that involves judges, prosecutors, prison officials and police officers, following the investigation into Norero’s death.

Salazar’s team scoured chats and call logs from Norero’s cellphone and found links to high-ranking state officials who handed out favours in exchange for money, gold, prostitutes, apartments and other luxuries.  

The operation revealed the extent of the corruption and infiltration of drug trafficking into the highest levels of government in Ecuador. 

“Salazar deserves credit for having carried out her operation in the utmost secrecy, so as to prevent the drug traffickers from being informed of the arrests,” said Emmanuelle Sinardet, professor of Latin American civilisations at Paris Nanterre University.  

“Managing to keep an investigation confidential is no mean feat in a country where corruption and the influence of drug trafficking are deeply rooted in state institutions,” she said. 

Regularly receiving death threats, Salazar has since largely kept out of the public eye, only appearing on occasion in a bullet-proof vest or surrounded by security.  

Ecuador’s top prosecutor, however, remains undaunted.  

“Now come and kill me,” she taunted her enemies at a recent hearing requesting prison terms for eight suspects. 

“Salazar’s courage, knowing full well that she is risking her life to fight corruption, makes her popular and appreciated by Ecuadoreans,” according to Sinardet. 

While Salazar has been criticised for her ambition and her alleged connections to powerful interests, “in the face of the threats to her and her family, the public sees her as a figure of integrity and dedication to the common good”, Sinardet says. “She is seen as the judicial arm of the state’s fight to restore authority and order to the streets.”  

Labarthe said the threats against those battling drugs and corruption are real, and widespread.

“We must not forget that all the other people involved in the fight against corruption – including lawyers, judges, investigators and journalists – are also under threat,” Labarthe said, adding: “We can only hope that Diana Salazar stays alive.” 

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Daniel Noboa, heir to banana dynasty, wins Ecuador’s presidential election

Daniel Noboa, an inexperienced politician and an heir to a fortune built on the banana trade, won Ecuador’s presidential runoff election Sunday held amid unprecedented violence that even claimed the life of a candidate. 

With more than 97% of the votes counted, electoral officials said Noboa had 52.1%, compared to 47.9% for Luisa González, a leftist lawyer and ally of exiled former President Rafael Correa. González conceded defeat during a speech before supporters in which she also urged Noboa to fulfill his campaign promises.

Noboa, 35, will lead the South American country during a period that drug trafficking-related violence has left Ecuadorians wondering when, not if, they will be victims. Their uneasiness has prompted them to continuously watch their backs and limit how often they leave home.

After results showed him victorious, Noboa thanked Ecuadorians for believing in “a new political project, a young political project, an improbable political project.”

He said his goal is “to return peace to the country, to give education to the youth again, to be able to provide employment to the many people who are looking for it.” To that end, Noboa said, he will immediately begin to work to “rebuild a country that has been seriously hit by violence, corruption and hatred.”

The incoming president’s term will run only through May 2025, which is what remains of the tenure of President Guillermo Lasso. He cut his term short when he dissolved the country’s National Assembly in May as lawmakers carried out impeachment proceedings against him over alleged improprieties in a contract by a state-owned company.

Ecuadorians — young and old, rich and poor, city and rural dwellers — had a universal demand throughout the campaign: safety. Noboa is now expected it to meet it, but the magnitude of the problem coupled with the brevity of the upcoming presidential term might prove an impossible task for the U.S.-educated man who will become Ecuador‘s youngest president. 

“I think there would be a very slim chance that even the best equipped president could reverse Ecuador’s security crisis within 18 months — it’s such a short period of time — and neither of these candidates was the best equipped. Noboa certainly not,” said Will Freeman, a fellow on Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “His proposals on security were erratic, and they gave the sense that he was improvising.” 

Violence erupted in Ecuador roughly three years ago with a rise in criminal activity linked to cocaine trafficking, and the government’s inability to tackle it was laid bare in August with the assassination of presidential candidate and anti-corruption crusader Fernando Villavicencio. 

Since then, other politicians and political leaders have been killed or kidnapped, car bombs have exploded in multiple cities, including the capital, Quito, and inmates have rioted in prisons. Earlier this month, seven men whom authorities identified as suspects in Villavicencio’s slaying were killed while in custody.

Noboa’s political career began in 2021, when he got a seat in the National Assembly and chaired its Economic Development Commission. The U.S.-educated businessman had opened an event organizing company when he was 18 and then joined his father’s Noboa Corp., where he held management positions in the shipping, logistics and commercial areas.

His father, Álvaro Noboa, is the richest man in Ecuador thanks to a conglomerate that started in the growing and shipping of bananas — Ecuador’s main crop — and now includes more than 128 companies in dozens of countries. The elder Noboa unsuccessfully ran for president five times.

The younger Noboa’s party will not have have enough seats in the National Assembly to be able to govern on its own. Garnering support from opposing lawmakers will be key to avoid the difficulties that plagued Lasso’s term. 

Lasso, a conservative former banker, clashed constantly with lawmakers after his election in 2021 and decided not to run in the special election. On Sunday, he called on Ecuadorians to have a peaceful election and think about what is “best for their children, their parents and the country.”

Under Lasso’s watch, violent deaths soared, reaching 4,600 in 2022, the country’s highest in history and double the total in 2021. The National Police tallied 3,568 violent deaths in the first half of 2023.

The spike in violence is tied to the trafficking of cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia and Peru. Mexican, Colombian and Balkan cartels have set roots in Ecuador and operate with assistance from local criminal gangs.

“I don’t expect much from this election,” Julio Ricaurte, a 59-year-old engineer, said Sunday near one of the voting centers in northern Quito. “First, because the president will have little time to do anything, and second because the (National) Assembly in our country is an organization that prevents anyone who comes to power from governing.”

Noboa and González, both of whom have served short stints as lawmakers, advanced to the runoff by finishing ahead of six other candidates in the election’s first round on Aug. 22. The replacement of Villavicencio finished in third place.

A large group of military and police officers as well as private security guards protected Noboa when he voted in Olón, a community on the country’s central Pacific coast. He wore a bulletproof vest.

González was unknown to most voters until the party of Correa, her mentor, picked her as its presidential candidate. She held various government jobs during Correa’s decade-long presidency and was a lawmaker from 2021 until May.

At the start of the campaign, she said Correa would be her adviser, but she recently sought to distance herself a bit in an effort to court voters who oppose the former president, who remains a major force in Ecuador despite being found guilty of corruption in 2020 and sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison. He has been living in his wife’s native Belgium since 2017.

Rosa Amaguaña, a 62-year-old fruit and vegetable vendor, said Sunday that safety “is the first thing that must be solved” by the next president. 

“I’m hopeful the country will change,” Amaguaña said. “Yes, it can. The next president must be able to do even something small.”


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