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Home Ecuador Ecuador Raid on Mexico Embassy Risks Support for Security Plans

Ecuador Raid on Mexico Embassy Risks Support for Security Plans

The decision to launch the raid on the Mexican embassy has the hallmarks of a political gamble, with Noboa betting that the benefits of burnishing his hardline reputation outweigh the risks from the potential fallout. However, this gamble has the potential to backfire in ways that could undermine his anti-crime and corruption policies at home and alienate key security partners abroad. 

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The Ecuadorian security forces' attack on the Mexican embassy in Quito to apprehend former Vice President Jorge Glas not only broke diplomatic norms, but it could also jeopardize the global and domestic backing for the government’s security agenda.

On the night of April 5, heavily armed Ecuadorian security officers forcefully entered the embassy building, where Glas had sought asylum, arguing that his prosecution for corruption was politically motivated.

Glas was later detained in the La Roca maximum security prison, but three days after, he was taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital. Prison authorities claimed Glas fell ill after refusing food, but police reports cited in local and international media suggested he may have overdosed on medications.

Glas has been convicted twice for corruption, but was released early from prison in November 2022 in a controversial decision by a judge who has since been detained as part of a bribery probe.

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When he faced new corruption charges, he sought refuge in Mexico, and had been sheltering in the embassy since December 2023. Just before the attack, the Mexican government announced it had granted Glas asylum and asked for his safe passage out of the country.

In the aftermath, Mexico immediately cut all diplomatic ties with Ecuador, and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador condemned “the blatant violation of international law and Mexico's sovereignty” on social media.

Governments and international organizations from across the region and beyond also criticized the attack.

Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa defended the attack in a statement released on April 8, stating the operation was intended to safeguard national security.

“We couldn’t allow asylum to be given to convicted criminals involved in very serious crimes,” he said.

InSight Crime Analysis

The decision to carry out the attack on the Mexican embassy displays the characteristics of a political risk, with Noboa gambling that enhancing his tough reputation outweighs the potential consequences. However, this risk could lead to negative outcomes that undermine his anti-crime and corruption policies at home and isolate important security partners abroad.

Noboa assumed office in November 2023 after an unexpected victory in a special election triggered by the previous President Guillermo Lasso's midterm resignation. Since then, he has built an image of a strong leader willing to take an aggressive approach to addressing the crime and corruption crisis in Ecuador. His rhetoric has been supported by a stringent military crackdown on gangs and a comprehensive anti-corruption investigation targeting high-ranking public officials.

This approach has garnered significant approval among Ecuadorians concerned about violence and instability. However, with crime rates starting to rise again and indications that the gangs are far from defeated, recent polls suggest that support has slightly wavered.

Noboa is currently being put to the test to see if he still has the support of the people. This test comes in the form of a referendum in April that will make prison sentences tougher and allow the military to be used for domestic security. It seems like Noboa is hoping that this move will help him gain more support before the vote.

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Even if Noboa gains popularity with the voters, he may lose the support of the powerful political elite. Until now, Noboa has been able to enforce his security policies because he is backed by a group of opposing political parties, with the most important one being represented by Glas. Now, there is a risk that these parties will withdraw their support and work against his security plans.

To carry out his security plans, Noboa will need to form a new political group, according to Lorena Yael Piedra, who is the president of the Ecuadorian Association of International Studies.

“He might be able to gather a new majority in the Assembly, but he will need to put in a lot of effort to make a fresh start,” she told InSight Crime.

It seems like Ecuador's important security partners and allies are unlikely to take any action beyond publicly denouncing the action.

For some countries, the cost of cutting ties with Ecuador over the raid may be too high for their anger to last. This is especially true for the United States, which needs to maintain close relations with Ecuador to manage a large security aid package that was offered when there was a sudden increase in the number of Ecuadorian migrants seeking safety from the violence and instability at home. However, others may not be ready to easily forget about the case. Colombia, in particular, is a cause for concern as it is the source country for the cocaine smuggled through Ecuador. The Colombian government responded to the operation by appealing to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to take steps to protect Glas. If information sharing and security ties with Colombia break down, Ecuador's ability to monitor cocaine flows and combat criminal networks in both countries could be seriously affected.The most significant rupture will likely be with Mexico, and this could have serious consequences for security cooperation. Mexican drug trafficking groups are major purchasers of the cocaine smuggled through Ecuador and are linked to the Ecuadorian criminal groups that transport the cocaine in the country. These criminal groups are among the main causes of domestic insecurity.

Despite this, Piedra believes that mutual security interests may be more important than political hostility.

“The risk [of a break in cooperation] is there but I would think that the actors involved are going to be sufficiently strategic not to shut down these paths,” she said. Featured image: Ecuadorian security forces escort former Vice President Jorge Glas to maximum security prison. Credit: Alina Manrique, El País Deciding to raid the Mexican embassy seems like a risky political move, with Noboa betting that boosting his tough reputation will outweigh the risks. However, this move could backfire and harm his anti-crime and anti-corruption policies at home and upset important security partners abroad.

However, according to Piedra, mutual security interests may trump political antagonism.

“The risk [of a breakdown in cooperation] is there but I would think that the actors involved are going to be sufficiently strategic not to shut down these paths,” she said.

Featured image: Ecuadorian security forces escort former Vice President Jorge Glas to maximum security prison. Credit: Alina Manrique, El País

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