The murder of a prosecutor in Ecuador is the latest in a series of deadly attacks on judicial officials, as criminal groups employ increasingly brazen violence against the state.
Prosecutor Federico Estrella was killed on August 15 when two subjects on a motorbike shot him outside his home in Babahoyo, the capital of the western province of Los Ríos. Authorities did not announce a motive for the killing but Estrella had been investigating several violent murders in the city, according to broadcater Teleamazonas.
The Ecuador Attorney General’s Office condemned such attacks against its employees in a statement on August 16. Estrella’s murder came less than three months after a former prosecutor in the eastern port city of Manabí, Luz Marina Delgado, was killed alongside a colleague when gunmen shot at their vehicle, leading to a car crash. The Latin American Federation of Prosecutors (Federación Latinoamericana de Fiscales – FLF) also expressed its dismay at the killing, stating that such attacks weakened democracy in Ecuador.
Officials have not specified the motive behind the attack. Delgado was a prosecutor in a case against a high-profile drug trafficker, Washington Prado Álava, also known as «Gerald» and the «Ecuadorian Pablo Escobar.» Police suspect Venezuelan and Colombian hitmen collaborated with locals in Ecuador to coordinate the assassination, according to local press.
Not all such attacks have been fatal. Guayas state prosecutor César Peña narrowly escaped harm after a gunman shot at his car in late July. In early May, a prosecutor in Santo Domingo, Víctor Hugo Alcívar, was shot three times by assassins who stopped his car while driving. A passenger in the vehicle was killed in the attack.
The country’s prosecutors are not alone in facing such threats. Since 2019, at least 45 judges have been threatened with intimidating letters, funeral flower arrangements, dead animals, messages, and phone calls, among other forms of intimidation, according to information from Ecuador’s judicial council cited by Tele Amazonas. Ecuador’s gangs have also stepped up targeted killings of police officers in 2022.
The judicial council and the US Embassy in Ecuador are currently working on a security plan to protect judges. Still, there is no similar plan for prosecutors and other court officials, according to Primicias.
InSight Crime Analysis
The targeting of prosecutors and judges in Ecuador provides another example of how the country’s criminal groups copy extreme tactics used by their peers in other countries.
Far from the norm in Ecuador, the murder of judges and prosecutors by criminal groups is more akin to brutal political assassinations seen in Colombia and Mexico. Before this year’s wave of attacks, the country’s Attorney General’s Office had only recorded three assassinations of prosecutors in recent times: in 2013, 2014, and 2019.
Though the attacks now appear more frequent, there appears to be no common thread tying the assassinations together. Authorities have not linked a specific criminal group to the violence and the targeted prosecutors had no obvious professional connection. The attacks were also spread across four different cities.
But the violence represents yet another worrying trend for Ecuador, a country that has seen gang clashes spiral out of control over the past two years.
Slayings of prosecutors have made headlines throughout Latin America in 2022. In May, a top Paraguayan anti-crime prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci, was killed while on his honeymoon in Colombia. Later that month, in Honduras, prosecutor Karen Almendares was murdered while heading to her home.
By Henry Shuldiner