Third Prosecutor Assassinated in Wave of Drug-Fueled Violence in Ecuador

The latest killing is part of the brazen violence that has plagued the nation as it has grown as a regional drug-trafficking hub.
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Military and police maintain control on the Ecuador / Colombia border. Drug-related violence has surged in Ecuador in recent years, tied largely to the international cocaine trade. Photo by Carlos Arias/Press South/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Ecuador’s descent into drug-fueled violence hit another low this week when a prosecutor was gunned down outside his office in broad daylight, the third prosecutor assassinated this year in the country. 

Edgar Escobar Zambrano, 43, prosecuted violent crimes in the port city of Guayaquil, according to local news reports. Police have arrested two suspects, a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old, and are holding both in pretrial detention.

Escobar’s murder triggered demands from prosecutors and judges around the country for better security protocols and protection for government officials. It also underscored the brazen violence that has plagued Guayaquil, the country’s largest city, which has become an important hub for shipping cocaine and other illegal drugs to the U.S. and Europe. 

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“I am deeply outraged by this new murder of a fellow prosecutor, the third so far this year,” Ecuador Attorney General Diana Salazar Méndez wrote on Twitter. “These criminal acts will not stop the work of the Prosecutor's Office to combat crime in our country. We demand guarantees and security to carry out our work.”

Authorities haven’t offered a motive for Escobar’s murder. But an increasingly bloody and aggressive drug war has led to a spike in homicides and grisly crime scenes in Guayaquil in recent years that mimic some of the bloodiest tactics of Mexico’s drug-related violence: decapitated heads, bodies hanging from bridges, and bomb attacks.

Authorities found seven 9mm bullet casings near Escobar’s body, according to Xavier Chango, the national head of criminalistics. Photos posted to Twitter showed the prosecutor crumpled on asphalt next to a tree in a suit and tie, his clothes soaked with blood. 

Throughout his career, Escobar handled sensitive murder and drug-trafficking cases, according to El Universo newspaper. It also reported that as of July, Escobar was prosecuting eight alleged members of a criminal organization for drug trafficking. It’s unclear what organization the defendants were associated with or the status of the case against them.

Also this year, Escobar prosecuted two inmates accused of participating in a prison massacre in November that left 68 inmates dead and another two dozen people injured, according to El Universo. The bloodbath at Litoral Penitentiary, an overcrowded and gang-controlled facility in Guayaquil, is believed to have stemmed from an ongoing feud between prison gangs. It’s one of many prison riots that have killed hundreds of inmates, including one in September 2021, also at Litoral Penitentiary, that left more than 100 dead.   

The number of murders in Ecuador rose more than 80 percent last year, to 2,494, up from 1,371 in 2020, according to statistics from the Security Ministry. 

Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, a conservative who took office in May 2021, declared a fourth state of emergency in Guayaquil in August after a bomb killed five people and injured 17 others.

“Criminal gangs have become a government within a government in Ecuador,” Guayaquil Mayor, Cynthia Viteri, wrote in an open letter to the president after the explosion. “Who is in charge here, organized crime or an enslaved government?”

“The enemy of the country is drug terrorism,” Lasso retorted on Twitter, “not the government.”