Ecuador's president has called organized crime the number one target for the country's military, in a sign that he is planning to expand the force's internal security role.
During the inauguration of new Defense Minister Miguel Carvajal, President Rafael Correa said the country's armed forces would prioritize the fight against organized crime, reports El Comercio. Correa said there "could not be a successful fight against crime without the participation of the armed forces."
According to military sources contacted by El Comercio, the military sent the government a proposal in October 2011, which has not yet been approved, requesting $6 million worth of police gear, including carbines, pepper spray, and tear gas. As the sources told El Comercio, the armed forces have already received $2 million in riot suits, vehicles, and other police equipment.
InSight Crime Analysis
Correa's comments and his appointment of a new defense minister follow a report by the military warning that organized crime could soon overwhelm the country, which has seen rising drug seizures in 2012. In the document, the army reportedly warned that it would be forced to intervene if drug related violence continues to rise.
Ecuador's military has increasingly been deployed for domestic policing since 2010, amid rising crime and following a police "revolt" in that year. The armed forces conduct border security operations, anti-drug work, and patrol the streets in some areas. Correa's comments suggest that he plans to step up the forces' internal security role, even though the country's constitution assigns that responsibility to the police.
Other countries in the region have also been expanding the role of the police in fighting crime, including neighboring Bolivia. This can be problematic, leading to heavy-handed policing and human rights abuses.