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Town Mayor and Advisor Found Dead in Car

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Brigitte Garcia, 27, Ecuador’s youngest-ever mayor, and her advisor, Jairo Loor, were discovered fatally shot in a vehicle in the coastal town of San Vicente, Ecuador, on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

Once lauded for its peace within Latin America, Ecuador is now grappling with a rise in gang-related violence. In response to escalating violent incidents, including the breakout of notorious Los Choneros gang leader, Adolfo Fito Macias, President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency three months ago.

Post the emergency declaration, the Phoenix Plan was initiated, aiming to curb criminal activities by deploying military forces on the streets and taking over the country’s prisons. The government reported that the Phoenix Plan has resulted in over 12,000 arrests, 165,000 operations conducted, and the confiscation of 65 tons of drugs. However, Garcia’s murder, along with the continued violent incidents, underscores the formidable task Ecuador faces in dismantling entrenched gang networks. Violence continues unabated, exemplified by a recent deadly ambush in Sucumbios, causing one soldier’s death and three injuries, and a bomb threat in Latacunga.

The brutal killings of Garcia and Loor have triggered widespread condemnation, leading the government to promise improved security measures. The Ecuadorian National Police disclosed that the shots were fired from inside the vehicle, adding complexity to the ongoing investigation. To gather more evidence, the leased car’s GPS system is being used to track its movements.

Beyond her political role, Garcia, a member of the Citizen Revolution Movement party, symbolized hope for her community, having recently spearheaded a project to augment water access. Her assassination underscores the precarious security situation in Ecuador, which is battling the influence of international drug cartels and an upsurge in gang violence.

The loss of Garcia has had a profound impact on Ecuadorian politics. Luisa Gonzalez, the presidential candidate from Garcia’s party, expressed shock and highlighted the pervasive insecurity that pervades the nation. This incident follows the assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, another presidential candidate known for his stand against corruption, last August, further highlighting the risks faced by public officials in Ecuador.

The escalating violence in Ecuador is not an isolated issue but part of a broader regional crisis. The rise in gang activity and drug trafficking is linked to weakened state institutions, corruption, and societal challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Located between Peru and Colombia, the world’s top cocaine producers, Ecuador has become a critical transit point for drug trafficking, further inflaming the violence. While the international community, including the United States, has backed Ecuador in tackling these challenges, experts argue that a military crackdown alone cannot address the root causes of gang violence and drug trafficking.

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