Rawlings Mitema Onserio
Ecuadorian soldiers patrolling in Portoviejo. Credit: Ariel Ochoa- AP

On 23rd November 2023, 35-year-old Daniel Noboa was sworn in as the new President of Ecuador. Noboa had run a campaign based on boosting employment and reducing the prevalent rate of violence, which had seen the homicide rate spike from six per 100,000 in 2019 to 25.6 in 2022. But president Noboa was soon to receive his baptism of fire as war between drug gangs and the national armed forces escalated, with tens of citizens losing their lives in the attacks.


Police evacuating staff from the TC Television building after the attack. Credit: Cesar Munoz, AP.

On 9th January, heavily armed gangsters stormed the TC Television headquarters in Guayaquil during the El Noticiero segment. The gunmen ordered staff, including presenters, to lie down and threatening to shoot them if they did not comply. The signal was soon cut. This was in response to the wave of at least 30 attacks around Ecuador sparked by the escape of well-known gangster, Jose Adolfo Macias, alias ‘Fito’. Noboa’s administration responded by declaring a state of emergency for a period of 60 days and a curfew. The government described the situation as an “internal armed conflict”, and as such, has mandated a greater role to the Ecuadorian military in stabilizing security in the country.

One article from Al Jazeera states that authorities reported a disturbing escalation in violence across eight provinces, with at least 23 separate incidents, including the detonation of several car bombs. During these events, gang members incinerated police cars and tragically kidnapped seven police officers. This is in addition to other worrying figures from previous violent incidents, such as 460 people being left dead as a result of clashes between inmates since 2021. The situation underscores the urgent need for heightened security measures and coordinated efforts to address the growing threat posed by criminal elements.


Ecuador has seen a surge in drug-related gang violence over the past few years, especially since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. In 2023, authorities seized a record 220 tonnes of drugs, figure that will not go unnoticed in international circles striving to put an end to the international drug trade. Indeed, over the past few years, Ecuador has become a hub for the international drug trade and authorities are starting to take notice.

Several factors have contributed to the growth of this illicit industry. Firstly, Colombia’s drug production runs along the border with Ecuador. Exploiting the lax security in Ecuadorian ports, particularly in major cities like Guayaquil, drug cartels seek to transport illicit substances to the European and American markets. Moreover, Ecuador’s robust infrastructure streamlines transportation, and its dollarized economy facilitates money laundering. These conditions, favorable to the drug trade, have prompted cartels to vie for control of the region, resulting in a surge of violence that has now extended throughout the country.


President Daniel Noboa during the state of emergency announcement. Credit: Handout/Presidencia Ecuador/AFP

President Noboa has adopted a resolute approach to address the perpetrators, deploying the military to prisons to restore order. Designating 22 gangs as ‘terrorists’, he achieved a remarkable milestone by securing unanimous parliamentary approval for classifying the operation as a military objective. Notably, this achievement is impressive given that President Noboa does not command a majority in Parliament. The decisive actions taken underscore the gravity of the situation and the president’s commitment to combating criminal elements.

In an interview with the BBC, President Noboa stated that “[The drug trade] affects the whole world: the narco-terrorists that operate here have operations in Europe, in the US.” In so doing, Noboa laid the groundwork for accepting help from the international community in dealing with the scourge. Washington offered to send a delegation to Ecuador to assist in stabilising the situation.

The events unfolding in early 2024 have potentially set the tone for President Noboa’s presidential term. Successfully addressing the challenges posed by drug cartels, as demonstrated by his firm actions in deploying the military and obtaining parliamentary support, will undoubtedly be a pivotal factor in evaluating the success of his mandate. Tackling such complex issues underscores the gravity of the situation and emphasises the significant responsibilities accompanying his role as president.


  1. Is a militarized approach the correct solution to Ecuador’s crisis of violence?
  2. How can the international community aid Ecuador in stabilizing the country’s security?
  3. Will the security situation be the main factor when assessing President Noboa’s mandate?

Further readings:

“Ecuador ‘in state of war’ against drug cartels’ terror campaign”- Al Jazeera- January 11, 2024.

“Violence in Ecuador: a new, long-standing problem”- El Pais- January 13, 2024

“‘We are at war’: Ecuador’s president vows to crack down on gangs behind week of violence”- The Guardian- January 13, 2024.

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by Rawlings Mitema Onserio time to read: 3 min