Presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, a wealthy banker opposed to the incumbent government, has proposed to privatize sectors of Ecuador’s national police force if he wins Sunday’s second-round election. His rival, leftist Lenin Moreno of the ruling Alianza Pais party, wants to preserve the country’s government-run police force and prevent privatization.
In other Latin American countries — usually allied with the U.S. — drug wars, paramilitary killings, and rampant impunity reign. In countries like Mexico, Honduras and Colombia, transnational drug cartels run entire regions; right-wing death squads assassinate human rights activists; and perhaps worst of all, both terror groups carry out their activities with almost complete impunity.
Ecuador, one of Latin America’s most peaceful countries, may soon experience a similar fate if right-wing presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso is elected.
On page 45 of Lasso’s campaign work plan, he proposes to “allow the participation of private enterprise in the public security service.”
At first glance, the proposal seems harmless. You may ask yourself: what’s wrong with private companies helping the national police fight crime?
But if you want to understand why a growing number of Ecuadoreans are concerned about Lasso’s plans, take a look at neighboring Colombia.
The proposal to privatize security forces in Ecuador put forward by Lasso is the same model that spurred a major surge in paramilitary violence in Colombia more than two decades ago, according to Colombian analyst Daniela Pacheco.
“We are evidently facing a proposal that seeks to establish a social control mechanism, through a false idea of strengthening democracy,” Pacheco told teleSUR in a recent interview.
Pacheco, warning Ecuadoreans about the dangers of following Colombia’s path, said privatizing sectors of the police opens the door to no oversight for these forces.
“The legally constituted private security services transformed into murderous armies at the service of elites, multinationals and drug traffickers, that stomps on campesinos accused of being alleged guerrilla members, social leaders, union leaders, and leftist politicians, for political, economic and territorial control in strategic areas of the country,” she wrote in a recent piece on the Ecuadorean platform La Junta.
In 2016 alone, there were 389 paramilitary-led attacks on social movement and human rights activists in Colombia, including 127 assassinations, the United Nations reports. Since the 1960s, paramilitary forces in the country have killed tens of thousands of people.
Mexico and Honduras, which have the most private security firms in Latin America, also serve as reminders of the dangers of privatized police.
Since former Mexican president Felipe Calderon declared his “war on drugs,” over 1,168 private firms have registered with Mexico’s government, Al Jazeera reported. There are another 8,000 to 10,000 unlicensed firms operating illegally in Mexico, the site added. In 2005, there were only 137 firms.
Private security firms have been catastrophic for the Mexican people. Not only have hundreds of these firms been charged by the federal government for collaborating with drug trafficking organizations, but they have also been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Indigenous and peasant leaders fighting the Mexican government.
In Honduras, there are currently 700 private security companies operating in the country, the Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras reports. Of those, 400 firms are not legally registered.
The observatory determined that most of the unregistered security firms, along with many of those registered, are involved in drug trafficking and gang activity. The firms are also involved in murdering land and human rights activists, like Berta Caceres, who challenge the multinational corporations they are paid to defend.
Mexican and Honduran private security firms, like their counterparts in Colombia, are given carte blanche treatment by their governments to spread terror. All three of these countries also have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.
In Ecuador, however, the circumstances are much different.
Since taking office in 2007, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and his Alianza Pais party have implemented a grassroots approach to law enforcement. Not only have they massively hired impoverished workers for the national police, they have also made sure the police officers hired to patrol the communities they live in — they don’t operate as an occupier force, as the police are accused of doing in other countries like the U.S.
Government-run police in Ecuador are also closely monitored by local community groups, making sure they don’t violate the rights of citizens. Any tourist visiting Ecuador will quickly notice that police do not carry large automatic weapons like they do in Mexico, Honduras and Colombia.
Ecuador’s national police officers get paid high salaries and are provided with full benefits, preventing many from being bribed by criminal enterprises.
The benefits of Ecuador’s large public police system are undeniable. In 2004, Ecuador’s homicide rate was 17.7 per 100,000 people, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported. By 2016, the country’s homicide rate dropped to 5.6 per 100,000 residents, giving it the second lowest rate in Latin America.
And in 2016, the country recorded 914 homicides, which marks the first time since crime record-keeping began that the figure was below 1,000, Cuenca Highlife reported.
Ecuadorean Minister of the Interior Diego Fuentes told the site that the leftist government’s large investment in public safety paid off.
“Specifically, we have increased the number of law enforcement officers by more than 40 percent since 2009, implemented one of the region’s best 911 emergency call services, and installed video cameras in high crime areas,” Fuentes.
Overall, police privatization in Ecuador would be disastrous for two reasons. First, because thousands of people would lose jobs, forcing them to participate in illegal activities to sustain themselves. Second, and perhaps more importantly, because all of Ecuador’s accomplishments in public safety would go down the drain.