Ecuador’s 36-year-old president is battling local and international drug gangs in his efforts to bring safety back to the country

Ecuador faces a significant challenge in combating the entrenched cartels and gangs, notably Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation from Mexico, operating within its borders. President Daniel Noboa initiated a crackdown on these gangs after the escape of Adolfo ‘Fito’ Macias, leader of Los Choneros, triggering a violent retaliation across the country.

The gangs primarily target port cities like Guayaquil and Esmeraldas, major centers of their influence. President Noboa reclassified gang crime as terrorism, granting security forces enhanced powers to combat them. Consequently, raids have led to a surge in arrests, with overcrowded prisons now under military control.

Inspired by El Salvador’s successful clampdown, Ecuador seeks to curtail gang activities through its ‘Phoenix Plan,’ supported with a budget of $800 million, including substantial aid from the United States. Sky News witnessed numerous raids against the gangs, highlighting the government’s aggressive approach.

However, the infiltration of Mexican cartels poses a formidable obstacle. Unlike in El Salvador or Honduras, where gangs lack organization, Mexican cartels wield significant power, with vast resources and extensive networks. Mexico’s government relies on its marines for law enforcement, acknowledging the police’s ineffectiveness against cartels.

Ecuador’s attractiveness lies in its strategic ports and conducive environment for drug trafficking, despite not being a cocaine-producing country. The cartels, facing disruption to their operations, may resist President Noboa’s efforts, potentially resorting to violence. Success hinges on maintaining control over gang members, preventing cartel resurgence, combating corruption, and ensuring the safety of the president and his government.

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