Ecuador has been shaken recently by several car bombings, a terror tactic more commonly employed by major criminal groups in Colombia and Mexico.
The most recent occurred on May 29, when a taxi exploded outside a police station in northern Guayaquil, one of the centers of Ecuador’s recent uptick in violence. Authorities reported no casualties but a police car was damaged. The day before, Guayaquil police had carried out a controlled removal of an explosive device left near local businesses.
Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo claimed the attack was a response to police and locals removing graffiti of a tiger from the surrounding area. The tiger symbol is associated with one of Ecuador’s leading prison gangs, Los Tiguerones.
Nine days prior, police made the macabre discovery of three mangled bodies close to Litoral Penitentiary in northern Guayaquil. Authorities said that the three individuals were likely killed by explosives that they were trying to smuggle into the prison via drone.
On May 19, a double car bombing sent shockwaves through the northern province of Esmeraldas, a region currently under a state of emergency and vital to the cocaine trafficking route north. The bombings occurred simultaneously, with one of the cars used parked outside a school. Gas cans were also placed in the vehicles to enhance the explosions, according to police sources cited by Infobae.
All told, five car bombings took place in Guayaquil during May, despite the state of emergency enforced by President Guillermo Lasso in the provinces of Guayas, Esmeraldas and Manabí at the end of April.
An increase in the use of explosive devices has been seen in the country for months. While some explosions have been small in scale, others have been stronger. An explosion in front of Guayaquil regional prison in March left three people injured. On May 2, a blast in the Villa Bonita citadel of Guayaquil left a car destroyed and shattered the second-floor wall of a residence.
The discovery of explosive devices targeting Ecuadorean judicial officials is particularly concerning. In April, authorities evacuated a prosecutor’s office in Guayaquil after detecting two boxes filled with explosives in the building’s parking lot, while on May 17, workers at the Judicial Complex in Quito were forced to evacuate after authorities discovered an explosive device nearby.
InSight Crime Analysis
Already fueling record levels of violence in Ecuador, the country's gangs have taken to using cartel-like tactics in their war to control drug turf. Makeshift explosive attacks and car bombs appear to be the latest strategy.
The fact that many of the recent bombings took place in the middle of population centers like Guayaquil and Quito demonstrates how Ecuador’s notorious prison gangs have made significant inroads beyond the walls of the country’s jails.
Mario Pazmiño, former director of Ecuador’s military intelligence and an international security and defense analyst, said Ecuador’s “mega-gangs” have transformed into micro-cartels. These groups now pose a more serious threat to the State, challenging security forces with more brazen acts of violence, such as car bombings.
Other analysts see the hand of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) as playing a role in Ecuador's spiraling violence. The groups provide cash and material support to Ecuador’s gangs in exchange for safeguarding drug shipments, spurring an escalating battle for control of this lucrative criminal enterprise.
What's more, the use of car bombings echoes the scare tactics of groups in Colombia and Mexico. Ecuador's gangs took to hung two corpses from a bridge in Guayaquil in February of this year, mirroring the grisly displays by Mexican cartels.
And as Ecuadorean groups become more violent domestically, the number of explosives smuggled in and out of the country appears to be on the rise.
On May 22, Ecuadorean police reported the interception of a truck carrying 746 “explosive units” in the southern province of El Oro. A few months earlier, nearly 80,000 devices used to detonate explosives were seized in Carchi, a province bordering Colombia.