As gang violence grips Ecuador, U.S. announces support, security aid

The United States on Thursday announced a series of funds to provide Ecuadorian military and police with critical infrastructure and equipment as the country (Guayaquilis pictured in 2021) is rocked by "internal armed conflict." File Photo by Marcos Pin/EPA-EFE

Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. National Security Council on Thursday announced funding to aid Ecuador as the country deals with a wave of gang violence.

NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement that the effort shows "the United States' continued commitment to supporting Ecuador in its fight against transnational criminal organizations."

Todd Robinson, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, this week led a U.S. delegation to Ecuador to announce funding for multiple Ecuadorian security measures, according to the statement.

The funding will help with the construction of the Ecuadorian Coast Guard Academy, a renovated canine veterinary clinic, a renovated office for the corruption prosecution unit, and eight mobile border units to support an elite border task force.

Robinson also helped launch a joint National Police-Coast Guard unit in Guayaquil to aid with information sharing and coordinating operations on Ecuador's waterways.

The Department of Homeland Security is providing digital forensics support to help target criminal networks in-country, has sent a team to train 175 Ecuador migration officers and has trained 35 members from the Ecuadorian Presidential and Vice-Presidential protective details, the statement read.

The FBI, meanwhile, increased its personnel in Ecuador in response to the surge in violence. The Department of Defense also plans to deliver a C-130H military plane to Ecuador in March.

This new round of support follows the delivery of over 20,000 bullet proof vests and more than $1 million of emergency response equipment the White House announced in January.

Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa in January declared "an internal armed conflict" across the country and designated some two dozen gangs as terrorist organizations.

Police that week arrested a team of gunmen who stormed the TC Television studio in Guayaquil during a live broadcast. The operation was one of several Noboa mobilized across the country to neutralize the targeted gangs.

"The groups mentioned in the decree have become a military objective," Noboa's office said at the time.

The United States on Wednesday sanctioned José Adolfo Macías Villamar, the 44-year-old leader of the Los Choneros gang, one of Ecuador's most violent gangs.

Macías Villamar, who also goes by the alias "Fito," was sentenced to 34 years in prison in 2011 for crimes including murder. He escaped from prison in early January, causing violent riots in prisons across the country. Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency in response to the wave of violence.

The sanctions block all property listed under Macías Villamar and prohibit all U.S. persons from doing business with him.

"Drug trafficking gangs such as Los Choneros, many with ties to powerful drug cartels in Mexico, threaten the lives and livelihoods of communities in Ecuador and throughout the region," Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said at the time.

The White House also said it plans to roll out a $45 million program to reduce childhood malnutrition, increase access to clean drinking water and improve sanitation; $13 million in equipment to protect the Ecuadorian Ministry of Defense computer networks; and $24 million worth of vehicles and security equipment for Ecuadorian police.