By Alejandra García – Jan 21, 2024
History repeats itself. For centuries, the United States has sought ways to intervene in Latin America to strengthen its military presence and dominance in the region whenever a country is in crisis. And it is happening again. The current security crisis in Ecuador is an opportunity for the United States to amplify its military presence in the Andean country. Under the guise of “contributing together to a safer and more stable region,” Washington announced on January 12 that it was sending the head of the Southern Command, General Laura Richardson, and other senior counter-narcotics and diplomatic officials to Ecuador to discuss with the government of President Daniel Noboa how to combat organized crime. According to the US State Department, this visit is aimed at “promoting dialogue among the region’s defense chiefs to exchange ideas, experiences and perspectives in order to achieve consensus on security and defense issues, and strengthening cooperation among the armed forces.”
But what is happening in Ecuador? In this country, one of the most violent ones in the world, with 45 intentional homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023, organized crime has led an escalation of violence since mid-January, with riots in several prisons, kidnappings, explosions, attacks, and even an armed assault on a television station in the city of Guayaquil.
In this situation, the government of newly inaugurated President Daniel Noboa has declared an “internal armed conflict” and has branded these gangs as terrorist groups and military targets. The escalation of violence occurred amid efforts by the young president, 36, to regain control of Ecuador’s prisons, many of them internally dominated by these groups.
In this context, the US government was one of the first to express its explicit support for the Ecuadorian president’s declaration of “internal armed conflict.” Although Washington ruled out sending troops, Ecuador is currently the country that receives the highest amount of US military assistance in the region, according to experts.
A study prepared by the Latin American Center for Geopolitics (CELAG) identified that during 2021-2022 Ecuador received US military assistance worth $172 million. In addition, former President Guillermo Lasso, shortly before leaving office, signed a military cooperation agreement with US President Joe Biden.
Tamara Lajtman, PhD in Social Sciences, one of the authors of the CELAG report, explained to Ecuadorian press that the cooperation agreement is oriented, broadly speaking, to the fight against illicit drug trafficking and related crimes. “However, there is no official document disclosing the details of the binational exchange,” she said. “It is known from the US embassy in Quito itself that Washington foresees the investment of some $3.1 billion over the next seven years in Ecuadorian affairs.”
According to the report, the military cooperation entails a series of permissions that both military personnel and US officials will have. The US envoys will have the same “privileges and exemptions” traditionally assigned to diplomats. US personnel will also not be required to pay any taxes in Ecuador. The agreement also allows the US Southern Command to move into Ecuadorian territory and patrol the maritime space and airspace, all under the pretext of combating drug trafficking and organized crime.
For Lajtman, signing this type of exchange at a time of security crisis is also evidence of the interest Ecuador has for the US, “in the context of a hegemonic dispute with China and Russia.” The expert pointed out the “key role” of the Galápagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, a little more than 900 kilometers from the Ecuadorian coast and under its administrative control.
Another author of the study, Aníbal García, pointed out that “the US Department of Defense has been trying to establish a military base in the Galápagos” because that would allow the US “to control a certain part of the Pacific in a war scenario with these powers,” referring to China and Russia.
Meanwhile, the Ecuadorian people are suffering the consequences of a poorly managed internal conflict. Terror is there to stay and the US military presence, far from being a relief, poses greater risks to the peace of the citizens and the sovereignty of the country. History is repeating itself, with a new page from the Monroe Doctrine.