Ecuador declared members of organized crime groups terrorists on Thursday, allowing the military to pursue them with greater freedom.
In a meeting presided over by President Guillermo Lasso, the Public and State Security Council decided to take action.
“We are currently experiencing an indiscriminate attack by organized crime, which has seen us as a weak country,” Security Secretary Wagner Bravo said.
He said the new measure would allow security forces to confront organized crime bands without having to wait for the periodic declaration of states of emergency that offer them extra powers and limit some civil rights.
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Ecuador’s burgeoning crime groups are believed to have links to the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, both in Mexico.
Drug gangs are waging a bloody war for power in the prisons and on the streets of Ecuador.
Clashes between inmates have left more than 420 prisoners dead since 2021, while outside penitentiaries, the murder rate has doubled, official figures show.
Bravo, a retired army general who assumed his security post on Wednesday, said after the council meeting that the state is ready “to declare that the terrorist threat is going to be confronted in a firm way.”
Since taking office in May 2021, Lasso has issued a dozen states of emergency in order to mobilize the military to the streets and implement curfews in the face of high crime rates.
Interior Minister Juan Zapata said this month that there are “more than 13 organized crime groups” in Ecuador, some with several thousand members.
“We are talking about a threat that has put the national security and the coexistence of Ecuadorans (at risk),” Bravo told the Ecuavisa channel.
Ecuador is located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s largest producers of cocaine.
Lasso’s government has seized more than 450 tons of drugs, mainly cocaine.