Ecuadoran Mayor Jorge Maldonado Assassinated Days Before Referendum on Organized Crime

Ecuadorian mayors targeted by organized crime, as country prepares for referendum on anti-crime measures. Maldonado's assassination highlights growing violence and influence of criminal groups in the country.

Emmanuel Abara Benson
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Ecuadoran Mayor Jorge Maldonado Assassinated Days Before Referendum on Organized Crime

Ecuadoran Mayor Jorge Maldonado Assassinated Days Before Referendum on Organized Crime

Jorge Maldonado, the mayor of Portovelo, a mining town in southern Ecuador, was shot dead by two attackers on a motorcycle on Friday.

Maldonado was the fifth Ecuadoran mayor assassinated in the past year, and the third in less than a month. The killing occurred just two days before a Sunday referendum where Ecuadorans will vote on whether to approve stricter measures against organized crime.

According to police, Maldonado "fell victim to gunshots that resulted in his death." The attack took place while the mayor was carrying out personal activities. Authorities have located an abandoned motorcycle with similar characteristics to the one used in the incident, which will be part of the investigation to determine the motive and arrest those responsible.

Maldonado's assassination follows the recent killings of two other mayors in Ecuador. On Wednesday, the mayor of Camilo Ponce Enriquez, Jose Sanchez, was shot dead in the southern province of Azuay. Last month, Brigitte Garcia, the 27-year-old mayor of San Vicente, was found dead in a car along with the municipality's communications director, both having suffered gunshot wounds.

The Association of Ecuadorian Municipalities (AME) called the killings "indicative of a serious security crisis" and demanded "immediate and decisive action" to ensure the safety of the country's more than 200 other mayors. AME lamented the crime against Maldonado and called for increased security for local authorities in Ecuador.

Why this matters: The string of assassinations highlights the growing violence and influence of organized crime in Ecuador. The upcoming referendum aims to address this crisis by allowing voters to approve tougher measures against criminal groups, including authorizing the deployment of the military to assist police and increasing penalties for terrorism and drug trafficking.

Ecuador has been gripped by bloody gang wars and the expansion of transnational drug cartels that use the country's ports to ship cocaine to the United States and Europe. In January, the government declared a state of "internal armed conflict" against about 20 criminal groups following a surge in violence sparked by the prison escape of a major drug lord. Prosecutors, journalists, and police have also become victims of organized criminals with links to Mexican and Colombian cartels.

The murder of public officials has become recurrent in Ecuador amid the escalating violence. At least a dozen politicians, including a presidential candidate, have been killed in the country since January 2022. The government has vowed to reinforce security controls in response to the recent assassinations of mayors. Maldonado's killing, just days before the crucial referendum, underscores the urgent need for decisive action against the powerful criminal groups threatening Ecuador's stability and security.

Key Takeaways

  • Ecuadorian mayor Jorge Maldonado was shot dead in an armed attack in Portovelo.
  • Maldonado is the 5th Ecuadoran mayor assassinated in the past year.
  • Killings linked to organized crime, ahead of a referendum on anti-crime measures.
  • Ecuador facing a surge in violence from gang wars and drug cartels.
  • Government vows to reinforce security in response to mayor assassinations.