Can Ecuador Avoid Becoming a Narco-State
from Latin America’s Moment, Latin America Studies Program, Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy, and Shared Challenges to Democracy and the Rule of Law in the Americas

Can Ecuador Avoid Becoming a Narco-State

Criminal groups have captured parts of the state. A broad political coalition must fight corruption and root them out.
Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa gives a speech during a ceremony to deliver equipment to the national police on January 22, 2024.
Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa gives a speech during a ceremony to deliver equipment to the national police on January 22, 2024. Karen Toro/ Reuters

Let the capos come for me . . . the time for threats is over,” boomed Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio to a hall packed with supporters on August 5, 2023. He promised to expose politicians and state officials he said were working with Ecuador’s powerful gangs, one of which was threatening his life. Days later, Villavicencio was dead—gunned down as he left a campaign rally in Quito, the capital.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, when gunmen killed presidential candidates in Colombia and Mexico, Latin America had rarely seen such a high-profile political assassination—much less in Ecuador, which had for decades escaped the violence destabilizing its neighbors. The spate of political murders during Ecuador’s 2023 electoral cycle—which left seven politicians and candidates dead, including Villavicencio—confirmed just how much the country had changed.

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Ecuador had always been vulnerable to incursions by narco-traffickers, long serving as a transit country. Wedged between the globe’s top coca producers, and home to bustling ports, high-quality roads, and a dollarized economy perfect for money laundering, it made a natural target. But since 2020, Mexican, Colombian, Venezuelan, and Albanian criminal groups have been waging open war to control cocaine trafficking routes through the country’s ports. Surging demand for the drug in Europe fuels the conflict. Ecuadorian gangs like Los Lobos and Los Choneros have emerged as powerful criminal actors in their own right.

Violent criminal competition, which began on the Pacific coast, has more recently spread to other parts of the country. Grisly prison massacres, car bombings in urban centers, and other once-unthinkable acts of violence now routinely make the news, while individual killings have become so common that they often go unreported. If homicides continue at their current pace, Ecuador will finish 2023 with a murder rate approaching 40 per 100,000—a nearly eightfold increase from 2017 levels, and one of the highest rates in Latin America.

The crime surge is transforming the country. Generalized impunity has emboldened gang leaders, who have shed their masks and now appear in sleek TikTok videos advertising their power to potential recruits. In parts of the coast, gangs co-govern with complicit local authorities and enforce “zones of silence” in which journalists are banned from covering local politics. Mostly vacant new buildings—a telltale sign of laundered money—have sprouted up in Quito and Guayaquil, while Colombian companies that specialize in bulletproof cars are doing booming business. Ecuador is still a democracy, albeit a flawed one, but the threat posed by criminal groups is eroding freedom of expression and other basic liberties. Five reporters fled the country under death threats in 2023 alone.

Increasingly, Ecuadorians cannot count on the state to protect them. Members of the police, armed forces, and judiciary have been exposed for colluding with organized crime. Seven detained suspects in Villavicencio’s assassination—among them, six Colombian nationals held in one of Ecuador’s most dangerous, gang-controlled prisons—were murdered in October 2023, raising doubts about state officials’ capacity, if not also their commitment, to discover the truth behind the candidate’s killing.

Many Ecuadorians now fear they are living in a narco-state. The violence, coupled with prolonged economic stagnation, has driven the largest wave of emigration from the country in a generation. In 2023, Ecuadorians were outnumbered only by Venezuelans among migrants crossing the Darién Gap, a mountainous jungle straddling the Colombia-Panama border. With a population of just under 18 million, Ecuador is one of Latin America’s smaller countries, yet the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency reported more than 100,000 encounters with Ecuadorians in fiscal year 2023.

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When and why did Ecuador’s security situation unravel? What put the country on the path to becoming a narco-state? The answer depends on whom you ask. Left-populist ex-president Rafael Correa—who held office from 2007 to 2017 and still looms large over Ecuadorian politics today—blames his centrist and conservative successors, Lenín Moreno and Guillermo Lasso, for mishandling the state and failing to contain the crime surge. Correa’s critics—a group that included Villavicencio—have blamed him for neglecting narco-trafficking and weakening security forces a decade ago, as crime began to spread.

Neither side is fully in the right, or in the wrong. Policy blunders by all three presidents, plus chance events beyond any government’s control, chipped away at the state’s capacity to deter crime. Ecuador’s violent unraveling was years in the making.

The more important question is what Ecuador can do to escape its current trap. Criminal groups have captured parts of the state. Political leaders must reverse this process before it is too late. Otherwise, Ecuador could follow the path of Honduras: another country that once escaped the extreme violence of its neighbors, only to become a violent haven for drug mafias and gangs by the 1990s.

Ecuador’s recently elected president, Daniel Noboa, who took office in November 2023, did what his two immediate predecessors had been unwilling to do: he forged a broad legislative coalition, including Correa’s party, the largest. Political unity is needed to begin reversing criminal state capture. But it seems unlikely that this coalition will make it a priority—each major party is pursuing goals unrelated to security, even as the violent crisis deepens. South America has no full-blown narco-states, for now. Ecuador is dangerously close to becoming the first.

Haven of Relative Peace

Ecuador’s violent crime surge is the ultimate reversal of fortune. For decades, Ecuadorians called their country South America’s “island of peace.” Located between Colombia, the site of Latin America’s bloodiest and longest internal armed conflict, and Peru, which experienced its own brutal insurgent and counterinsurgent violence, Ecuador seemed favored by good luck.

Despite widespread poverty and plenty of cause for grievance, the country remained mostly peaceful during the Cold War. Just a few hundred leftists took up arms in the 1970s and 1980s. Although the state cracked down hard on the insurgents, it did not extend state terror to the civilian population writ large, as occurred in many other South American countries.

As urban gangs sprouted up from the 1980s to the 2000s, the murder rate shot up. But most of the violence was concentrated in the Pacific port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest urban center. The national murder rate never surpassed the Latin American average.

Low to moderate levels of criminal violence prevailed not because organized crime and drug trafficking were absent, but because a small number of criminal organizations retained control. Ecuador was primarily a transit country. Parts of the sparsely populated northern frontier with Colombia served for decades as havens for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist insurgency that trafficked drugs and became the country’s largest rebel group, with nearly 20,000 fighters at its peak. The FARC charged Colombian drug cartels for trafficking cocaine through the border zone; the latter in turn contracted Ecuadorian gangs to move drugs through Ecuadorian ports. Still, until the 2010s, most Colombian cocaine was exported through Colombian ports, and the FARC, focused on fighting the Colombian state, kept violence in northern Ecuador to a minimum.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was extreme political instability rather than extreme violence that put Ecuador on the map. A powerful Indigenous movement, emboldened opposition lawmakers, and a military only partially under civilian control toppled one president after another. The country cycled through eight presidents between 1995 and 2005. That created an opening for Correa, a charismatic economist and anti-establishment figure, to win the presidency in 2007, promising a clean break with feckless politicians and debilitating instability. After sweeping a plebiscite on rewriting the constitution, Correa’s leftist party redesigned the state and gained control of most of its institutions.

Correa’s government brought a reprieve from political instability, expanded the social safety net, and grew the middle class. But it also swelled Ecuador’s foreign debt by a third, weaponized the intelligence services and courts against its critics, and left behind a trail of white elephant projects and corruption scandals. By the end of Correa’s second term, it was uncertain whether democracy would survive. But after Correa left office in 2017, his chosen successor from his own party, Moreno, unexpectedly broke ranks, revived checks on executive power, and reopened space for civil society. Democracy had made it out of the Correa years damaged, but intact. The same could not be said of Ecuador’s security.

Warning Lights On

By the end of Correa’s tenure, his security policy appeared to have been a success. Having taken office amid a spike in gang-related violence, Correa reduced homicides to levels not seen since the 1980s. His administration combined preventive and punitive measures to combat ordinary crime. Lower levels of inequality and poverty, more cops on the street, and a deal that allowed the Latin Kings—then Ecuador’s largest gang—to renounce violence and become a cultural association: all this contributed to safer streets. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) even celebrated a Correa cabinet minister for stepping up drug interdictions between 2010 and 2016. 

But less violence does not necessarily mean less organized crime. Signs accrued that narco-trafficking activity was increasing, and that traffickers were increasingly penetrating the state. In 2008, the Special Investigative Unit (UIES) of the national police discovered nearly five tons of drugs on the farm of the Ostaiza brothers, three Ecuadorians who had financed Correa’s 2007 presidential campaign and met regularly with José Ignacio Chauvin, a high-ranking member of the campaign team who became undersecretary of government.

The UIES continued investigating the narco-trafficking ring, detaining Chauvin. But then Correa dismantled the police unit in 2009, accusing it of working too closely with U.S. intelligence officials. Chauvin was released after serving just four months in prison. Without the UIES—or a comparably trained and equipped substitute—the police lost much of their capacity to investigate and dismantle drug trafficking organizations.

Other incidents suggested that narco-traffickers were gaining access to the state. In 2008, a private aircraft landed without authorization in Quito, spent three days in an air force hangar, and took off for Mexico, where the pilot was arrested for transporting cocaine. Correa threatened libel suits against journalists who reported on the case. The former deputy director of the aviation authority, who had authorized the suspicious landing and takeoff, was arrested in 2019 along with police and air force personnel and accused by prosecutors of narco-trafficking for Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. His brother was arrested three months later, landing a drug shipment in Belize.

In 2011, Ecuadorian police found one ton of cocaine and $600,000 in cash in a stash house in Tachina, a beach town, leading to the conviction of five functionaries from Correa’s party and a police commander for running a narco-trafficking ring between Ecuador and Spain. Spanish police wiretapped the suspects and found they were in regular communication with high-ranking officials in the Interior and Justice ministries, as well as with the Sinaloa Cartel’s top envoy in Ecuador.

In February 2012, Italian police discovered an Ecuadorian diplomatic suitcase full of liquid cocaine. In 2013, Ecuador’s Interior Ministry identified an army captain, Telmo Castro, as the top local associate of “El Chapo” Guzmán, then leader of the Sinaloa Cartel; Castro was sentenced to thirteen years in prison, where he was later murdered. On his phone, investigators found a picture of Correa arm in arm with a man who had been convicted of narco-trafficking. Correa sought to distance himself from the scandal and denied any link between his government and drug traffickers. At the very least, these episodes revealed vetting lapses by the president’s inner circle.

Meanwhile, Correa made a series of policy decisions that weakened the state’s capacity to monitor and apprehend narco-traffickers. Correa, whose father had been imprisoned in the United States for carrying a small amount of drugs, believed that the world’s major drug-consuming countries should curb demand at home, not outsource counternarcotics policy to countries like Ecuador. Correa also bristled at the close relationship between the United States and the Ecuadorian military and police; he considered the police disloyal after officers staged a chaotic uprising in 2010. Members of Correa’s party, like Chauvin, maintained close ties with FARC leaders, according to a study by Ecuadorian investigative journalists Mónica Almeida and Ana Karina López.

In 2009, Correa ordered the shutdown of a U.S. military base in the port city of Manta whose personnel had monitored and intercepted narco-trafficking vessels and aircraft. As the Americans pulled out, Correa’s government purchased Chinese radars, but these were never installed. It was not until 2017 that Correa brought in Spanish replacement radars. By that point, Ecuador’s vast territorial waters had become a haven for narco-vessels.

During the latter years of Correa’s tenure, maritime trafficking increased, according to a former military chief cited by Insight Crime. Between May 2012 and January 2015, Ecuadorian officials also happened upon six Mexican narco-planes loaded with cash or drugs on the country’s soil. The expulsion of a U.S. ambassador, reduced cooperation with the DEA, and a frosty relationship between Correa and President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia further impeded Ecuador’s ability to monitor transnational organized crime.

Other policies indirectly weakened the state’s defenses against crime. The 2008 constitution, crafted by Correa’s party and its allies, all but eliminated visa requirements for foreign nationals. Noble in principle, “universal citizenship” allowed Mexican, Colombian, and Albanian mafia leaders to slip in and out of the country undetected. To raise revenue, Correa granted foreign companies concessions to operate several major airports and seaports, making it difficult to enforce rules on screening cargo. Law enforcement at these facilities was assigned to a small and under-equipped new police force. Also, Correa nearly doubled Ecuador’s prison population over his decade in office, exacerbating overcrowding and turning jails into fertile terrain for gangs.

Correa government officials did not ignore the warning signs. They debated how to avoid “Venezuelanization,” fearing that like Venezuela’s leftist government, they, too, could soon face a debilitating surge in crime.

A Perfect Storm

As it turned out, the surge came under Correa’s successor, Moreno, who took office in 2017. Backed by the results of a popular referendum, Moreno purged Correa loyalists from the top rungs of the state and restored presidential term limits, which had been eliminated by Correa’s party in 2015. He also reformed a communications law that had muzzled the press. Courts speedily convicted former government insiders and the ex-president himself on corruption charges, though Correa had already left the country for Belgium, evading a prison sentence. A contentious political transition was underway.

Then came the “perfect storm,” as one Interior Ministry official described it: a series of destabilizing shocks delivered in quick succession. First, the government of Colombia brokered a 2016 peace accord with the FARC to demobilize the rebel group. But many members of the FARC’s southern fronts—which controlled the coca-growing region along the Colombia-Ecuador border—held onto their criminal fiefdoms. No longer required to finance other units, they could retain all their cocaine profits for themselves and retool as full-time narco-trafficking outfits.

As security improved within Colombia and coca cultivation hit an all-time high, FARC dissident factions took advantage of Ecuador’s weak security institutions by routing ever-larger drug shipments through the country. By 2017, one-third of Colombian cocaine passed through Ecuador. Gangs and foreign criminal groups began to battle for control of increasingly lucrative transit routes and ports. In early 2018, the bombing of a police headquarters in San Lorenzo and the kidnapping and murder of three Ecuadorian journalists working near the border sounded the alarm: Ecuador’s fragile peace was ending.

Meanwhile, prolonged economic stagnation increased the pool of recruits for organized crime. The price of oil, the country’s main export, had steadily declined since 2014, pushing the economy into recession. But dollarization had left the government with limited ability to pursue counter-cyclical spending. Correa ran up Ecuador’s foreign debt to China and pledged 90 percent of the country’s oil exports to Chinese creditors through 2024. 

Moreno, even more fiscally constrained, turned to the International Monetary Fund for financing. To comply with its demands for deficit reduction, he implemented painful austerity measures that triggered violent mass protests, encouraged by the Correista opposition. Austerity also left the country ill-equipped to handle subsequent shocks, like the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacted a devastating human and economic toll. As Ecuador fell on hard economic times, the criminal economy became an increasingly important employer from coastal towns to urban neighborhoods and rural border regions.

The Moreno government, primarily focused on the political transition, put security issues on the back burner. Although the budget for the police increased slightly during Moreno’s term, spending on the prison system declined. Moreno also took a risky bet on dissolving the Ministry of Justice and replacing it with a new bureaucracy that proved too small and inexperienced to manage the country’s mega-jails. Gang leaders soon became de facto prison wardens, raking in profits by extorting inmates and their families. In February 2021, weeks before the end of Moreno’s term, 79 inmates were killed inside the prisons. It was just the first in a series of prison massacres that would claim hundreds more lives by the end of 2023 as gangs fought over control of the extortion of inmates.

Whether by pure coincidence or not, as the political hegemony of Correa’s party crumbled, the long-standing order among criminal groups fell apart, too. For years, a single gang, Los Choneros, had dominated drug trafficking through Ecuador’s ports, working closely with the Sinaloa Cartel. But by the late 2010s, once-subordinate “second-generation” gangs, like Los Lobos and Los Tiguerones, began to violently compete for primacy. The fighting intensified after the 2020 assassination of Los Choneros’s top leader, with the second-generation gangs eventually allying with the Sinaloa Cartel’s Mexican archrival, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to Ecuadorian investigative news outlet Código Vidrio.

In May 2023, an ex-police general told me that at least seventy-two criminal groups were operating across Ecuador. Gangs have diversified their criminal activities and territorial control, moving into extortion and illegal mining.

Dead Ends

Guillermo Lasso, a conservative former banker and longtime opponent of Correa, succeeded Moreno as president in May 2021. He inherited a rapidly deteriorating security situation. From 2021 to 2022, Ecuador’s homicide rate nearly doubled, rising from 14 to 25.9 per 100,000 people. After Lasso backed away from a deal to form a coalition with Correa’s party, the president also faced a hostile majority in the legislature.

Lasso’s policy decisions and governing style made things worse. He staffed his government with a mix of young, inexperienced personnel recruited from his think tank and aging members of the armed forces. Preoccupied with pro-business economic reforms, Lasso also neglected security. The Interior Ministry, in charge of the national police, spent under a fifth of its allotted budget in 2022. Aside from pursuing a close relationship with the United States, there was little continuity with Moreno’s security policy.

Under Lasso, security policymaking took on an improvisational quality. A spike in murders led to a nationwide state of emergency, declared in October 2021. As violence escalated in 2022, Lasso proposed a constitutional reform to allow the military to take on policing tasks. Opposition lawmakers slow-walked the proposal.

In early 2023, a referendum on whether to allow the extradition of Ecuadorian citizens to the United States should have been an easy win, but the opposition deftly turned the vote into a referendum on Lasso’s presidency, and the proposal was rejected. In May, the opposition made a third attempt to impeach Lasso, this time for allegedly overlooking corruption in his administration. Facing likely removal from office, Lasso invoked muerte cruzada (mutual death)—a previously untested constitutional clause—to dissolve the assembly, end his presidential term early, and call snap elections.

It was the worst possible moment for Ecuador to succumb to a political melee and government paralysis. All signs suggested that state capture was advancing. Police and military intelligence exposed case after case of corruption in the police and armed forces. In recent years, navy officials were caught selling weapons and information to criminal groups and acting as bodyguards for Los Choneros’s new leader, kilos of cocaine were found in a navy vehicle and on a military base, and air force officials were disciplined for damaging radar equipment. U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick went so far as to publicly denounce the existence of “narco-generals.”

Narco-corruption had spread to the judiciary, too. Between 2019 and 2022, nine judges in two coastal provinces faced trial on charges of providing convicted narco-traffickers with favors like reduced jail time. In interviews I conducted, a pro-transparency activist and high-ranking officials claimed that these practices had become generalized in the lower courts and a regional prosecutor’s office. A former police general described how “armies of lawyers” kept suspected gang leaders and narco-traffickers out of jail by exploiting Ecuador’s strong due process guarantees and paying bribes. A member of the national judicial council, responsible for administering the courts and identifying and sanctioning corrupt judges and prosecutors, said his institution lacked the budget and legal powers to fulfill its tasks.

State capture is clearly occurring; the question is whether it has already reached the highest levels of government. In January and February 2023, journalists revealed that police had begun to investigate allegations that one of Lasso’s top informal advisers and campaign financiers, his brother-in-law Danilo Carrera, was operating a complex web of corruption alongside an Ecuadorian businessman allegedly tied to Albanian narco-traffickers. An independent legislative commission found evidence that police informed Lasso about the relationship in July 2021, but that the president did nothing to intervene as prosecutors archived the case and the police team investigating it was dismantled over the following year.

After the scandal broke in February 2023, Lasso denied acting to shield anyone and urged the prosecutor’s office to reopen the case, but then he withdrew specialized police from the prosecutor’s office and publicly criticized journalists investigating the affair. Carrera, who was placed in pretrial detention in November 2023, denied any wrongdoing and claimed he was the victim of political persecution.

Rubén Cherres, Carrera’s alleged collaborator, was found murdered in a coastal town in April 2023, impeding the investigation. The case, much like those that surfaced during Correa’s tenure, suggested that individuals with close ties to narco-traffickers may well have worked their way into high-level government circles.

Reversing State Capture

Ecuador is now facing an entirely different organized crime problem than it did fifteen to twenty years ago. It is no longer a transit country in which violence and criminal activity cluster largely along drug trafficking routes. Instead, its mafias are consolidating into complex, layered structures that involve service contractors who run drugs and provide armed protection, gangs that control territory, public officials and politicians who keep institutions from interfering or provide criminals with state protection, and businesses that launder drug profits.

While transnational groups like Mexico’s cartels benefit from this situation, Ecuador’s homegrown criminal structures—including, but not limited to, gangs—have become equally formidable obstacles to security and peace. They are also violently putting down roots in the communities they govern and financing local politicians. Increasingly, they can refinance their operations by extorting businesses large and small, freeing them at least partially from dependence on volatile drug profits. Soon, parts of Ecuador could succumb to de facto rule by criminal paramilitaries, much like regions of Colombia did during the 1990s and 2000s.

Ecuador cannot escape this trap merely by doubling down on the anti-crime strategies tested under the Correa, Moreno, or Lasso governments. Lasso militarized the fight against crime during his term, declaring gangs “terrorist groups” to give soldiers greater leeway to attack them. The defense minister in Noboa’s new government, Giancarlo Loffredo, has stated his intention to continue expanding the role of the armed forces. But high-ranking military officers whom I interviewed expressed reluctance to perform policing functions usually reserved for civilians. The armed forces may be Ecuador’s most trusted institution, but the records of other Latin American countries, like Mexico, that have militarized the fight against crime do not inspire confidence.

Nor is it feasible—to say nothing of whether it is desirable—for the government to make a pact with criminal groups. Unlike El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele reduced crime by first striking a deal with gang leaders and then jailing their foot soldiers, Ecuador’s criminal groups are likely too fragmented for a similar negotiated approach to work. Wherever one gang demobilizes, another would swoop in.

There is a different model for reversing Ecuador’s descent into violence and state capture—one that is much harder to emulate, but also more likely to work, with follow-through. It involves dismantling the multilayered criminal structure taking root in the country—not primarily by pursuing low-level foot soldiers for the gangs, but by investigating, prosecuting, and convicting complicit state authorities and money launderers. The fact that military and police intelligence agencies continue to expose criminal collusion in the ranks of the security forces—and some prosecutors still pursue public officials for the same crimes— suggests that islands of independence remain in each of these institutions. Although they face grave risks, they must take on Ecuador’s criminal groups before it is too late.

Ecuador’s judiciary is underfunded and over-burdened—and it has not always investigated politicians in power with the same vigor it displays in pursuing the opposition. But it is far from Latin America’s worst-equipped. In the Capacity to Combat Corruption Index, compiled by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and Control Risks, Ecuador ranks near the middle of the regional pack, just behind Colombia and Brazil.

Colombia could serve as an example. Starting in 2006, the Colombian Supreme Court began to investigate networks linking local and regional politicians to paramilitary groups involved in drug trafficking. The court had to struggle against uncooperative prosecutors and a president, Uribe, who wavered between supporting the investigations and attacking the court for investigating his family and allies. Even so, the judiciary managed to investigate over 470 public officials for paramilitary ties by 2012, open cases against 60 members of Congress, and put 30 lawmakers in prison, including Mario Uribe, the president’s cousin. The parapolítica investigations did not solve Colombia’s organized crime problem, but they raised the costs of complicity. The murder rate, which had already been declining, further decreased during the investigations, and drug-trafficking paramilitaries were less able to capture members of the security forces and local and national politicians.

Guatemala is another case in which efforts to reverse state capture resulted in at least partial success for a time, entirely against the odds. After the creation of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in 2007, international lawyers and jurists assisted Guatemalan prosecutors and judges in dismantling dozens of criminal structures with ties to the state. Murder rates fell precipitously. Although domestic opponents, including then-President Jimmy Morales, ultimately did away with the CICIG in 2019, its work helped Guatemala achieve a lasting reduction in criminal violence.

Ecuador may have weaker state institutions than Colombia, and it draws less international attention than Guatemala once received. But reversing criminal takeover of state institutions is the only option to prevent the consolidation of South America’s first narco-state. Villavicencio, although often politically divisive in his rhetoric, was the clearest and most vocal proponent of a campaign against state capture. After his death, his party, the second-largest in the assembly, appears to have fallen prey to infighting.

Noboa focused less on security issues in his presidential campaign than might have been expected, emphasizing themes of unity and overcoming political polarization instead. Having quickly cemented a governing pact with Correa’s party and the Social Christian party, it remains to be seen what the new president does with it. Set to serve an exceptionally short fifteen-month term due to Lasso’s early departure, Noboa could face the temptation to spend his term pursuing short-term goals and positioning himself to seek reelection in 2025. Correa’s party—still the largest in the legislature—could put overturning their leader’s corruption conviction above all else, clearing the way for him to return from Belgium and compete in the same election.

In either case, prioritizing political gain would be a mistake. If a campaign to reverse state capture does not begin soon—supported by civil society and politicians from across Ecuador’s political spectrum—the president who takes office in 2025 will not really govern. The criminal groups will.

This publication is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.

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