The Biden administration plans to increase assistance to Ecuador amid growing concerns over the deteriorating security situation in the country, ranging from equipment to deploying personnel, according to a senior administration official.
The scale of US assistance to Ecuador underscores the urgency and concern within the Biden administration over the unfolding situation in the country, where gangs have terrorized the population, as well as the growing power of criminal enterprises.
Ecuador, once known as the region’s “Island of Peace,” is nestled between two of the world’s largest cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia, and its deep ports have made it a key transit point for cocaine making its way to consumers in the United States and Europe. Its dollarized economy has also made it a strategic location for traffickers seeking to launder money.
Experts warn that Ecuador’s terror groups are aligned with a wider criminal network, including the notorious Sinaloa Cartel out of Mexico, complicating President Daniel Noboa’s attempts to “neutralize” criminal groups operating within his borders – and as a result, gripping the country, and its armed forces, in fear.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden asked special adviser for the Americas Christopher Dodd and Commander of the United States Southern Command Gen. Laura Richardson to go to Ecuador, assess the situation and report back, the senior administration official said.
On the heels of that trip, the White House said the US would facilitate the delivery of 20,000 bulletproof vests “and more than $1 million worth of critical security and emergency response equipment, including ambulances and defense logistic support vehicles.”
And more is on the way.
The senior administration official described a whole-of-government approach to address the situation, including regular meetings chaired by deputy Homeland Security adviser Jen Daskal with administration officials to map a way forward.
“Is there intelligence that we can provide to the Ecuadorians? FBI teams have been going down there to help. We have the DHS Homeland Security Investigations Unit … deploying personnel in a couple of days to train police and prosecutors,” the official said, adding that the Secret Service and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency are also assisting.
“We’re throwing everything at this to see what it is in the next 30 days we can do to control the situation,” the official added, stressing that in addition to equipment and personnel, officials are also focused on helping bolster the economy.
Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Noboa said the country “would gladly accept cooperation from the US. We need equipment, we need weapons, we need intelligence and I think that this is a global problem. It’s not only in Ecuador, this is a problem that goes beyond borders.”
The senior administration official cited the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lingering policy effects of the ex-president of Ecuador Rafael Correa as factors in what’s currently happening in the country.
The situation is alarming for officials not only because Ecuador has been a partner to the US but also because of the criminal enterprises at work and concerns that it will push people to flee and migrate to the US southern border.
“I think this should validate that what we’re dealing with is not a migration challenge at our border, but rather a region that in the post-pandemic has struggled to recover economically. And countries, like Ecuador, are facing enormous security challenges,” the official said.
“When families there feel like they’re not safe, or they can’t find opportunities, they vote with their feet, and they come up here,” the official added.
The number of migrants from Ecuador arriving at the US-Mexico border has increased over time. In November, Border Patrol apprehended more than 13,000 migrants from Ecuador at the US southern border, according to the latest available data from US Customs and Border Protection.
Homeland Security officials are monitoring the Darien Gap to observe any increased flows of Ecuadorians but have not recorded an uptick as of now.
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