Former Ecuador FM Says Embassy Raid Signals A Deeper Political Crisis

Novice President Daniel Noboa overplayed his hand and now faces international backlash—all because his administration is fundamentally unable to address Ecuador’s crisis of insecurity and poverty.
Ecuador under President Noboa faces international backlash and isolation following an illegal embassy raid to arrest former VP Jorge Glas, amid escalating crime and insecurity. In this conversation, Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s former Foreign Minister, discusses Noboa's tough-on-crime agenda, which coupled with neoliberal policies has exacerbated social and economic challenges in Ecuador.

Ecuador has been thrust into the international spotlight following a flagrantly illegal raid on the Mexican embassy on April 5. President Daniel Noboa ordered the raid to arrest former Vice President Jorge Glas, who had sought asylum on the embassy grounds since Dec. 2023. Mexico has responded by severing diplomatic ties with Ecuador and filing a complaint with the ICJ, specifically requesting that the court expel Ecuador from the UN until an apology is given. Governments across the Americas and the world have joined the chorus of denunciations, noting the violation of diplomatic immunity as a severe breach of international law.

Ecuador once stood out in the region for its relatively low crime rate and steadily improving social progress, yet its fortunes have radically reversed in the past decade. The fall of the left-wing Correistas unleashed a tide of neoliberalism and narco-trafficking in the country, sending poverty and crime soaring. Noboa, who is the son of Ecuador’s wealthiest man, came to power on promises to address the security crisis—but so far, has only managed to haul the country into a three-month long state of emergency. To understand recent events and place them in the proper context of Ecuador’s contemporary politics, The Real News speaks with Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s former Foreign Minister.


Welcome to the Real News podcast. I’m your host, Ju-Hyun Park, Engagement Editor here at The Real News. Today, we’re discussing major developments in the nation of Ecuador, where a recent government raid on the Mexican Embassy is sparking a major international row.

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Last Friday, April 5th, Ecuador’s right-wing government, led by President Daniel Noboa, kicked off an international firestorm when it raided the Mexican Embassy in Quito to arrest Ecuador’s former vice president, Jorge Glas, who had been living on the compound since December last year seeking asylum.

Former Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, who Glas served under as VP has since reported that Glas has attempted suicide following his arrest and is currently on hunger strike in prison. Mexico swiftly severed diplomatic ties with Ecuador following the raid and governments across the region and around the world have condemned Ecuador’s actions.

Even the Organization of American States and the US have made statements decrying the embassy raid. Mexico has kicked up the pressure by filing a complaint with the International Court of Justice, asking the court to suspend Ecuador’s membership in the UN until an apology is made.

Joining The Real News today is Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and former Minister of Knowledge and Human Talent. Long is a trained historian who holds a PhD in international politics from the University of London. He is currently a senior research fellow with the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Guillaume, welcome back to The Real News.

Guillaume Long:

Thank you very much for having me on the show. It’s a real pleasure.


Let’s go ahead and get started with the basics. Why was the Noboa administration after Jorge Glas? And why were they willing to go as far as to raid the embassy of a foreign country?

Guillaume Long:

Yeah, that’s a great question, and there are a few hypotheses but I don’t think we have a clear answer. I think part of it is that there’s a lot of unawareness in the Noboa government. I mean, we could go further and call it incompetence. It’s not a very well-lubricated political machine, to say the least. And a lot of people, it’s their first time in government. He’s very young himself, and I just think … I mean, it sounds crazy, but I just think they weren’t expecting this international response, this international backlash.

I mean, it’s pretty obvious that if you’re going to storm an embassy it’s going to be bad, but they just thought there would be a cost, for sure, but they didn’t expect as high a cost on the international front. Ecuador right now is completely isolated, as you rightly noted.

And so the cost, that was the cost, which I think they underestimated, but the win for them was, I think it was an electoral gamble. There are elections on April 21st in Ecuador, a referendum with 11 questions, and we saw in the polls on a few questions the government was starting to look like it might lose. The government is the one proposing this referendum. And there were a few questions that were looking tight.

The assumption being that the government was going to win this referendum from a few, I mean, it’s a recent government, recently sworn in, Noboa has only been in power since November. He’s kind of still in his honeymoon. There’s a very desperate situation in Ecuador concerning security and insecurity with extremely high homicide rates and a lot of narco crime, and Ecuador’s like the new frontier of the war on drugs right now.

So people are desperate, and so Noboa launched a referendum on security issues. He also managed to sneak in a couple of questions that have to do with economics and directly benefit his own business empire and his family’s business empire. But the other nine questions were on security issues, enabling the military to get involved in law enforcement, longer sentences, allowing for extradition of Ecuadorians, essentially, to the United States and those kinds of measures.

So, those measures in the context of the spiraling insecurity and the spiraling homicide rate in Ecuador was, yeah, I mean, they were bound to be popular. And despite this, we’ve seen in the last few weeks, the polls still favoring Noboa on most questions, but not favoring Noboa on a couple of questions, particularly the economic questions that he sneaked in.

So, I think he was worried that he might not win and he really needs this win because he’s only a caretaker president. He’s in there to finish his predecessor’s mandate. His predecessor faced an impeachment process and then eventually resigned and so had to call for new elections. And the Ecuadorian constitution allowed for these new elections, which Noboa won, but he’s only allowed to finish this mandate.

So, his mandate finishes in May next year, 2025, and there will be elections in February. So he has very little time. This is an electoral year, and he wanted this referendum to do a few more months on the victory on a high and have some political oxygen. And he really wants to be reelected, so he basically stormed the Mexican Embassy.

Now, why would that be popular? I’m not sure it is actually going to be popular. I think that it might be a complete miscalculation. But he definitely did that I think as part of his electoral campaign to look like he’s a strong man, that he has an iron fist that he he has resolve. Because Ecuador’s insecurity situation is so dire and Ecuador is fast becoming a narco state, his goal is to project this image that he is a tough guy and to storm an embassy achieves that.

And of course, inside the embassy, he was achieving a double goal because inside the embassy, there’s a senior opponent to his government, a former Correista vice president, former President Rafael Correa’s vice president, who’s actually been persecuted over these years. It’s quite a terrible situation he’s faced. He’s just come out of four-and-a-half years in jail and there was a new court case started against him. He was wanted, there was a pretrial detention order, not even a guilty sentence yet, but a pretrial detention order. And he thought, “Right, the Ecuadorian judiciary is completely politicized,” and therefore sought asylum in this embassy.

So, Noboa thought, “Right, I’m going to get this guy. Nobody’s going to run away from Ecuadorian justice, and I don’t care whether I violate the sanctity of the Mexican Embassy. And I’m going to look like a tough guy, I’m going to win these elections.” I think that’s the long answer to your question of why Noboa did this.

But I do think there is a miscalculation there because the international response is huge. It’s isolating Ecuador. I don’t think Noboa was expecting this. He was this young guy who’d just been elected who was looking like a new promise in the region because he’s so young and a new wind of change in the region. And now he just looks like someone who’s a tyrant, anti-democratic, someone who violates international law, and I can’t see a lot of his neighbors wanting to be in the picture with him or inviting him to their country. I think he’s going to be pretty isolated for the remainder of his term.


Thank you. That’s some really important context to just help our listeners understand the general political situation, and specifically what’s happening with Noboa.

As you’re mentioning, Noboa is a political novice. I believe he’s something like 36 years old, very young to be a head of state. Also the son of one of Ecuador’s richest families, literally the child of a billionaire who has now ascended to this very important position within the government. And I want us to talk a little bit about the program that Noboa has been pushing, because Noboa is, as you’re saying, really running on issues of security and insecurity within the country, really pushing the so-called tough-on-crime approach. And since January has actually had the entire country under a state of emergency because of the escape of notorious drug trafficker and cartel leader, José Adolfo Macías Villamar, better known as his alias, Fito.

So I’m wondering, we get this narrative of Ecuador is falling apart, it’s got this massive crime problem. I’m not trying to say that these are not in fact issues, but I would appreciate a little bit more insight into what exactly is the situation on the ground for Ecuadorian people right now? And what is the Noboa agenda doing or not doing to actually address people’s real needs?

Guillaume Long:

Yeah. So, the situation is really bad, undoubtedly. And you just mentioned January 8th and 9th, huge crisis with the escape of several drug lords, including alias Fito. Several drug lords, others as well escaping on those days from the penitentiary system under Noboa’s watch. So that didn’t look great for him. So that’s just sort of an addendum to your prior question, right? I mean, because he didn’t look so great, because he let all these drug barons flee or escape. Well, I mean, he didn’t let it happen, but it was under his watch. He wanted to look tough here. And despite the fact that this is not at all a drug baron, he’s got nothing to do with it, it’s a political opponent, and I would argue someone who’s facing a lot of political persecution and lawfare, which is something we can also talk about.

But yeah, the situation in Ecuador was really bad. Last year, 2023, Ecuador closed with one of the highest homicide rates in the Americas. Just to contextualize, Ecuador was traditionally pretty peaceful place in South America. It didn’t suffer from the rampant insecurity that its two larger neighbors have historically suffered from, so Colombia and Peru. It was one of the few countries that, well, first of all was not a producer of cocaine. Colombia is right on the other side of the border. It was a transit country. It had some issues there. And also because Ecuador was dollarized, the economy was dollarized in the year 2000, so there was some incentive for criminal organization to launder money in Ecuador. So I mean, it wasn’t completely immune from the drug trade, but it was always considered a much lesser problem than many other countries in the region.

In fact, when the Left arrived in power in 2007, when Rafael Correa was elected Ecuador’s homicide rate, the homicide rate is a pretty good proxy, particularly in the context of the war on drugs, for how bad the security situation is, right? And Ecuador’s homicide rate inherited by Correa in 2007 was 16, 17 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. That’s the Latin American average. So, it’s not great because Latin America has a higher homicide rate. But compared to some of its immediate neighbor, including Colombia and other countries that have really struggled historically with insecurity and with narco trafficking driven organization, it was relatively benign.

But despite this, Correa really invested in first improving the efficiency of his security system and the police and the intelligence services. And so, on the one hand, so kind of a traditional, if you like, law enforcement approach, but also with some decentralization of police capacity, so sort of neighborhood police forces, which was a whole model that was actually heralded by the Inter-American Development Bank and the OAS itself as a successful model, but still law enforcement approach on the one hand.

And then on the other hand, of course, the social approach, the long-term reduction of poverty and inequality with a massive reduction of poverty during his tenure year mandate under Correa and probably the champion in the region. Ecuador was the champion in the region in the reduction of inequality. And so, this resulted this dual approach, better security, but also redistribution, social, labor and human rights resulted in the homicide rate dropping from 16 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants to 5.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. This is one of the greatest success stories in crime reduction and in violent crime reduction and reduction of lethal violence in Latin America in just a decade. 5.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017.

Well, last year in 2023, the year closed in Ecuador with 46 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. So we’ve gone from 5.8 homicides to 46 homicides per a 100,000 people in just six years. This is one of the sharpest increases in Latin American history of the murder rate. And it can be explained by a number of things, but primarily the rolling back of the state, the closing of institutions, the growth of poverty. Before the COVID pandemic, the poverty rate in Ecuador had already risen by 17% between 2017 and the end of 2019. And after the COVID pandemic, Ecuador has been the country that’s had the slowest post-COVID recuperation. So the worst post-COVID growth rates in the region. So really bad on the economic front, really bad on the social front. Of course, the COVID pandemic was a problem throughout the region. In fact, there was an increase in crime throughout the region in Latin America, but it was particularly bad in Ecuador because of what I’ve just described.

And then just neoliberal austerity, closing down ministries. Incredible, but Ecuador actually, that closed down the Ministry of the Interior, which runs the police. It closed down the Ministry of Justice, which runs the penitentiary system. Closed down the Coordinating Ministry of Security, which was one also hailed as a success story, including by inter-American institutions, such as I just mentioned the Inter-American Development Bank, which is not exactly a leftist institution, but still saw this as an efficient oversight and coordination between the different security forces and intelligence services, and so on. They closed all that down to cut the budget. Neoliberal austerity came, and that was it. That was the end of a number of institutions that had been successful.

So the end result is from 2020, 2021 onwards, after the pandemic, you start seeing the loss of the Ecuadorian state’s control over key parts of Ecuador’s territory. There’s a vacuum and organized crime loves vacuum, right? Criminal organization, just that’s what they do. They fill vacuums. And particularly on border areas. And also Ecuador has seven maritime ports that are of significant importance on the Pacific coast, and therefore those were very interesting, obviously, for narco trafficking organizations. So a lot of the fighting has been over the control of those maritime ports.

But what really happened is that Ecuador lost control of its penitentiary system. And the loss of the control of the prison meant that gangs operated from the prisons, including the hierarchy of the gangs, the big drug barons, the big bosses of the organizations, and prison massacres started occurring. So, since 2021, 500 people have been literally massacred in large scale massacres like 70 people here, 40 people there, 60 people there being killed. One pavilion storming another pavilion and killing everybody. So rival gangs fighting each other.

And it’s been very, very traumatic because, as I’ve just explained, Ecuador was a relatively peaceful country in the regional context. In fact, Ecuadorians called their country the Island of Peace because they were used to hearing terrible news coming from either Ecuador or Peru. Ecuador didn’t have a history or as much of a story of civil armed conflict as Colombia did, or even as Peru did. And so this was very traumatic, and we’re talking about massacres with beheadings and gruesome stuff.

So that’s how we arrive to 2023 in the war being elected, the campaign being fought fundamentally on security issues, because people are desperate, and people are now leaving the country en masse, so you’ve got a huge migration crisis. Ecuadorians are now the first or second, it changes every other month in numbers on the US southern borders trying to cross into the US from Mexico. It’s Venezuelan and Ecuadorians, and Ecuadorians often, late 2022 and 2023, the number of Ecuadorians actually overtook the number of Venezuelans trying to cross the border. And obviously they go through the Darien Gap, which is run by, the whole traffic of people is run by terrible mafias and gangs. And yeah, it’s a really bad state of affairs for Ecuador.

And so, young Daniel Noboa one wins the campaign on a gung-ho security campaign, law and order approach. Obviously this is inevitably conservative. When you have campaigns that are run on law and order issues, it’s usually bad news. You have candidates competing amongst themselves to see who’s going to be the most gung-ho kind of approach to crime and all this kind of stuff.

And because under his watch there’d been further actions and violence being committed by these gangs, he’s had to double down and look tough. And so, as you rightly said, we now have got a state of exception with a curfew and now this super hawkish referendum in which he’s kind of, as I said, sneaked in a couple of questions that benefit his companies. But the purpose of the referendum is essentially security driven. And yeah, he’s just wanting to look like the new Bukele in South America. That’s essentially what he’s trying to do.

Ju-Hyun Park is the engagement editor at The Real News.

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