- 64% in Ecuador do not feel safe walking alone at night
- 41% are confident in local police
- 24% are confident in judicial system
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ecuador now ranks as the least safe country in Latin America, thanks to escalating gang violence, drug trafficking and civil unrest in 2022. Nearly two in three (64%) Ecuadorians interviewed last year said they do not feel safe walking alone at night where they live, while just 35% said they do.
This situation represents a rapid and dramatic change in fortunes for the Andean country. Just five years ago, Ecuador ranked among the safest countries in the region, with a majority of its population feeling safe (52%) walking alone at night.
Ecuador’s status as the least-safe country in Latin America in 2022 was no easy feat in a region where countries routinely rank among the least safe in the world. Venezuela has ranked as the least safe in the region -- and often the world -- in most years that the World Poll has been conducted. However, the security situation in Venezuela improved in 2022, with 53% feeling unsafe walking alone at night, down from 67% the year before.
Why Has Ecuador Vaulted to No. 1?
Over the past couple of years, Ecuador has found itself to be a new nerve center in the global drug trade. Situated between the world’s two largest producers of cocaine -- Colombia and Peru -- Ecuador has historically been fairly successful in limiting its exposure to the worst effects of regional drug trafficking.
However, booming cocaine production in Colombia, cuts to Ecuador’s prison budgets and the elimination of the Justice Ministry, among other factors, have meant that the state is now less able to control the effects of the international drug trade.
Crime rates have soared recently, as have prison populations. Hundreds of inmates have been murdered, at least a dozen police have been killed because of escalating gang violence, and some Ecuadorians have witnessed decapitated bodies hanging from bridges.
As a result, President Guillermo Lasso has introduced numerous states of emergency to stem the violence, including in late June 2022, just before World Poll fieldwork started.
Few Ecuadorians Anywhere Feel Safe
Western coastal states -- the epicenter of recent violence and drug trafficking -- have been hit hardest, and there, nearly three-quarters (73%) of all adults don’t feel safe walking alone.
Perceived public safety in western Ecuador is now at a level similar to what Afghanistan experienced in 2021 (77% felt unsafe) when the Taliban returned to power, or Chad in 2006 (74%) during an attempted military coup.
Further, the public safety crisis is affecting all Ecuadorians, but particularly residents aged 50 and older (71% unsafe) and women (72%), who feel less safe walking alone than men do throughout the region.
Worryingly for the government, the crisis is not limited to just feeling unsafe. It is also linked to a rapidly waning faith in the state’s ability to enforce public order.
Ecuadorians’ confidence in their local police and their faith in the judicial system are the lowest the country has seen in over a decade. Roughly two in five (41%) Ecuadorians in 2022 expressed confidence in their local police force, and even fewer were confident in the judicial system (24%).
Between 2011 and 2021, the majority of Ecuadorians had confidence in the police, averaging 60% over that period.
Confidence in local police falls to just 30% among those who feel unsafe walking alone at night in their neighborhoods. The rapid fall in overall confidence in the police demonstrates that vulnerable Ecuadorians no longer have faith in the state to protect them.
Ecuador finds itself at the center of a perfect storm of factors that are driving the public safety crisis today.
Gallup data show that the Ecuadorian government is facing a huge challenge in the oldest raison d’etre for state rule: protecting citizens from violence.
This challenge must be addressed immediately if Ecuadorians are once again to enjoy the safer country they knew in years gone by. If not, rising insecurity poses a profound obstacle to Ecuador’s development.
Ecuador is one of the few Latin American countries with a pro-U.S. administration, and Lasso met with President Joe Biden in December to strengthen relations and discuss migration flows to the United States.
But with Ecuador recently announcing a new free trade deal with China and its security crisis at risk of deteriorating further in 2023, the U.S.-Ecuador alliance could find itself under greater strain.
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