Guayaquil, Ecuador’s port city, is grappling with a surge in drug-related violence, with frequent executions becoming a daily occurrence. Recent incidents captured on security cameras and reported by the police reveal a pattern of targeted killings. In one instance, a group of men chatting on a street corner was attacked by gunmen who emerged from a white van, resulting in two fatalities. The violence has earned the city the nickname “Guayakill” on social media.
The escalating insecurity in Ecuador, once known for its peaceful environment, has become a major concern as the country heads into a run-off election. Guayaquil, home to nearly three million people, has become a hotspot for drug violence as international cartels exploit the city’s port to smuggle cocaine from neighboring countries. This illicit business has brought about a wave of brutal violence, including prison gang fights, car bombings, and kidnappings.
According to Ecuador’s Observatory of Organized Crime, the number of murders in the first half of 2023 has nearly doubled compared to the same period in 2022, reaching almost 1,500. The violence is not confined to specific areas but strikes unpredictably, targeting men who have recently been released from prison. The perpetrators, often teenagers, are vying for control over territory and drug trafficking routes.
The battle for control primarily unfolds within the vast prison complex on the outskirts of Guayaquil, where the leader of the powerful criminal group Los Choneros, Jose Adolfo Macias, also known as “Fito,” has been held since 2011. However, innocent civilians frequently become victims of this ongoing violence, as was the case with one of the victims on Machala Avenue, described by the police as “collateral damage.”
The criminal landscape in Guayaquil involves various gangs, including Los Choneros, Lagartos, Tiguerones, and Aguilas, who have intricate alliances with Mexican cartels, Colombian guerrilla groups, and Balkan traffickers. The control over drug routes, particularly through the Guayas River towards the Gulf of Guayaquil, is a key factor driving the violence.
Guayaquil presents a stark contrast between its modern buildings and affluent neighborhoods barricaded behind barbed wire and the crime-ridden, impoverished areas. The rise in crime, which was almost non-existent two years ago, now encompasses a mix of petty crimes, drug trafficking, and mafia activities.