Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ecuador part 2: Crime, Natural Disasters, Road Conditions

The highest area of concern is the common crime though the police and the law enforcement agencies are doing their best to reduce it. Good results have been achieved but a lot remain to be done. The most common crimes are petty thefts and robberies usually following and armed aggression. The micro criminality trend in Quito is increasing despite the fact that the government has recently increased the number of police agents on the ground cutting their number from Embassies and International Organizations. The targets are usually those individuals carrying rucksacks, bags or cases. Cellulars and laptops are the most wanted objects by thieves. Cars are targeted as well. Usually victims are not killed if they do not react. The express kidnap is a “specialty” of the locations along the Pacific Ocean coast. Frauds and credit card cloning are two common crimes as well.
During my visit in Ecuador I received an interesting intelligence analysis very detailed and based on updated figures, prepared by the local branch of an international security company.
The threat from common criminal elements is considered HIGH in certain areas; violent crime is a serious and growing Movements after dark should be avoided.
An other element which can trigger social unrest is the widespread xenophobia against Colombians. Ecuador hosts 500.000 displaced Colombians, out of which 50.000 as refugees. This figure will be probably incremented up to 200.000 in the next future. The anti Colombians feeling is invigorated when crimes are organized by them against local populations in Ecuador. Along the border, the presence of Colombian prisoners in the Ecuador prisons reaches 90%.

Organized crime:
The organized crime in Ecuador is often strictly connected with drug related activities. Such international organizations are composed by Ecuadorian, Colombia and Peruan and are active in the northern areas of Carchi, SucumbĂ­os and Esmeraldas. These regions face infiltrations of Colombia guerrilla elements such as FARC, Aguilas Negras, etc. as well as narco traffickers. Ecuador is used by guerrilla as a place where fighters can rest since the Ecuadorian Army counter guerrilla activities are never as efficient as the Colombian ones. The guerilla presence in the northern regions of Ecuador has hugely affected the local economies. Guerilla fighters can pay cash for their accommodations, services, needs thus creating an economy fully dependent from their presence. Furthermore, part of the enormous quantity of drugs product in Colombia and Peru’ is transported via trucks towards the Ecuadorian coast in order to be shipped.
UNDSS country advisor is concerned that WFP vehicles could be used by narco traffickers hiding among the food packages some drugs. There is no evidence so far but it could be considered as potential threat. To figure it out about how big this phenomenon is, one should look at the quantity of cocaine confiscated by the Ecuadorian law enforcement agencies annually, about 30 tons.
A large number of Ecuadorian peasants live in the areas nearby the Colombian border and cross the border every day or spend a period in Colombia to cultivate coca plantations. They are skilled and relatively well paid compared with the salary earned in the mother country. Along with this group of people across the border several illegal or semi legal (tolerated by the authorities) activities take place. Particularly there is a quite large smuggling of gasoline and petroleum, stolen illegally creating holes in local pipelines, cement and sulfuric acid. These elements are vital for the drug laboratories to refine and produce cocaine. Milk is sold to those working in the laboratories in order to reduce the intoxication produced during the refining process, while inhaling intoxicating vapors. Indeed, several towns and villages rely completely on commerce, smuggling and logistic activities to support guerrilla. The gas cylinder is sold illegally in Colombia at 10 times more its price in Ecuador, which by the way has a subsidized price.

Several professional killers, Colombian and Ecuadorian, are always available to offer their services to those involved in narco activities.
A high number of arms and weapons are smuggled as well across the border.
As stressed, in Ecuador operate international criminal organizations composed by Colombian, Ecuadorian and Peruan. The FARC also improved its ties with local indigenous populations helping the drug traffic.
Young tourists are often involved in transportation of drug in their rucksacks or suitcases.
Money laundry is the most evident fact about the dependence of this region on illicit activities. New and shining luxury buildings are built in the Lago Agrio surroundings and other northern localities.
It must be said, finally, that large families are widespread in villages across the border both in the Ecuadorian and Colombian sides.

Natural Disasters:
The Earthquakes and tremors are the most concerning natural disasters in Ecuador. The last deadly one, actually two strong earthquakes with magnitude 6.1 and 6.9 affected Ecuador, March 5th 1986. It created a serious socioeconomic problem for the country and triggered hundreds of associated geologic hazards—massive landslides, subsidence, liquefaction, impoundment of rivers, and other effects common to earthquakes that have occurred in similar settings. In spite of the seriousness of this structural damage, the economic and social losses directly due to earthquake shaking were small compared with the effects of catastrophic earthquake-triggered mass wasting and flooding in the area adjacent to Reventador Volcano. Rock and earth slides, debris avalanches, and debris and mud flows E of the Andes resulted in the destruction or local severing of nearly 70 km of the Trans-Ecuadorian oil pipeline and the only highway from Quito to Ecuador's eastern rain forests and oil fields.
Another natural threat is provoked by the presence of the Volcano Guagua Pichincha whose capital Quito wraps around its eastern slopes. In October of 1999, the volcano erupted and covered the city with several inches of ash. It threats the city indirectly since its principal crater is opened towards west. Other two volcanoes are active in Ecuador: Reventador and Cotopaxi.
The landslides affect the generally country during heavy showers mainly along the highway connecting Quito and the Pacific coasts which can be affected by flooding as well.
The risk posed to WFP by natural disasters can be assessed as medium.

Red Cross volunteers, assist victims of natural disasters in Ecuador (courtesy Dipnote)

Road Conditions:
Traffic is generally chaotic in Ecuador. There is a low respect for the transit rules as well as for traffic local police.
Some cases of police corruption related with car incidents have been reported.
The phenomenon seems to be increasing after the introduction of a new stricter traffic law enforcement rule. According with it police can now arrest preliminarily a driver involved in an incident and the car be confiscated. To avoid such rigid measures some policemen can be available to “adjust” their report.
The lack of trust in the police is generally associated with their lack of action and investigation results.
The justice system appears to be corrupted too increasing consequently the level of impunity.
In Ecuador, the risk of a fatal accident appears to be medium. The hazard presented by road travel is assessed as high.

Medical care facilities are widespread in Ecuador. Adequate medical and dental care can be readily obtained in the major cities of Ecuador. In smaller communities services are limited, and the quality is variable. Ambulances, with or without trained emergency staff, are in critically short supply. Serious cases must be evacuated to the Ecuadorian mainland for treatment.

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