Ecuador Now Ranks as the Least Safest Country in Latin America

BARRIO – Ecuador now ranks as the least safe country in Latin America due to escalating gang violence, drug trafficking and civil unrest in 2022. Nearly two in three (64%) Ecuadorians interviewed last year said they do not feel safe walking alone at night where they live, while just 35% said they do.

This situation represents a rapid and dramatic change in fortunes for the Andean country. Just five years ago, Ecuador ranked among the safest countries in the region, with a majority of its population feeling safe (52%) walking alone at night.

Ecuador’s status as the least-safe country in Latin America in 2022 was no easy feat in a region where countries routinely rank among the least safe in the world.

Venezuela has ranked as the least safe in the region — and often the world — in most years that the World Poll has been conducted. However, the security situation in Venezuela improved in 2022, with 53% feeling unsafe walking alone at night, down from 67% the year before.

Over the past couple of years, Ecuador has found itself to be a new nerve centre in the global drug trade. Situated between the world’s two largest producers of cocaine — Colombia and Peru — Ecuador has historically been fairly successful in limiting its exposure to the worst effects of regional drug trafficking.

Crime rates have soared recently, as have prison populations. Hundreds of inmates have been murdered, at least a dozen police have been killed because of escalating gang violence, and some Ecuadorians have witnessed decapitated bodies hanging from bridges.

As a result, President Guillermo Lasso has introduced numerous states of emergency to stem the violence, including in late June 2022, just before World Poll fieldwork started.

Public safety crisis is affecting all Ecuadorians, but particularly residents aged 50 and older (71% unsafe) and women (72%), who feel less safe walking alone than men do throughout the region.

Worryingly for the government, the crisis is not limited to just feeling unsafe. It is also linked to a rapidly waning faith in the state’s ability to enforce public order.

Ecuadorians’ confidence in their local police and their faith in the judicial system are the lowest the country has seen in over a decade. Roughly two in five (41%) Ecuadorians in 2022 expressed confidence in their local police force, and even fewer were confident in the judicial system (24%).

Between 2011 and 2021, the majority of Ecuadorians had confidence in the police, averaging 60% over that period.

Confidence in local police falls to just 30% among those who feel unsafe walking alone at night in their neighbourhoods. The rapid fall in overall confidence in the police demonstrates that vulnerable Ecuadorians no longer have faith in the state to protect them.

This challenge must be addressed immediately if Ecuadorians are once again to enjoy the safer country they knew in years gone by. If not, rising insecurity poses a profound obstacle to Ecuador’s development.

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