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Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos




In this interview, Billy Navarrete, Executive Director of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH) talks with an anonymous interviewee (AI) about the crime situation in communities in Guayaquil. The interview took place on July 11, 2023 at the CDH office. In this interview, AI describes crime as the main problem in the community, where several armed gangs constantly clash. The interview provides an x-ray on the complexity and dynamics of the gangs, the insecurity in the community and the impact on the daily life of the people who reside in these areas.



Drug trafficking


The anonymous interviewee (AI) mentions that the gangs are fragmented and change in number, that is, there were two gangs before but now there could be up to six gangs in the community. These gangs are engaged in drug trafficking, especially drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. They also engage in assaults on shrimp farms and other violent acts, including murder and rape of women who work in these places.


Gangs compete for territory within communities. There, some people are in charge of drug trafficking, while others are in charge of local distribution. In addition to adults, these gangs recruit young people, adolescents and even children from the ages of 12 and 13, who become sellers and, in some cases, also consumers.


BN: The task, is it only the large-scale trafficking or also the drug sale within the community?


AI: As I explained, there are some bands there. There are some that are dedicated only to "move up the drugs" (to the ship), but there are others that are dedicated to managing sales right there within the zone. So, one of the problems we have is because of the territory they are fighting for. That is where they begin to recruit more people, to become part of them, because they need a person who sells here, another person who sells there, someone else selling over there.


BN: So, on the one hand, I understand that there is the task of "moving up", on the other hand, they also want to take possession of the territory for sale in the community. However, we are also talking about that same drug, that is, cocaine, also circulates in the community and is consumed.


AI: Consumed, yes…


BN: So, what is happening in communities, that is, the problems that it entails is the fight for the territory and placing these vendors to have the area covered. That's basically what does the most damage, in terms of death.


AI: Sure, they've increased the murders’ rate. There, every two or three hours you hear a dead here, a dead there. Seriously, everyone walk in fear (...) sometimes one arrives in the neighborhood and likewise, the motorcycles arrive to shoot, sometimes they manage to kill the person they want to (kill), but other times innocent people who are passing by ended up injured out there or those who lived on that same corner (...) Look, they even have the power to tell you that if you have a light outside your house, at a certain time, you have to turn it off (...) I imagine it was a way to sneak or not make the transfer of the drug from a house to the canoe so visible.





On the other hand, AI comments on the dynamics of young hitmen and how they are recruited. Usually, AI says, the recruitment of people for gangs focuses on the most vulnerable, such as children and adolescents without parents or living on the streets. However, for those with relatives, retaliation against the family is used to force young people to join these gangs. It further describes how they are offered initial tasks and gradually involved in more dangerous activities.


That is, they are assigned missions to gain status within the gangs, which implies violence both inside and outside the communities. A measure of identification of the hitmen is through the numbering of each one of them, and these (numbers) decrease as they complete missions, demonstrating their experience and power in the gang.


BN: And how is the recruitment itself? Is it forced? Because I would understand that there are precarious conditions where everything is forced. There are no other options to choose from.


AI: Yes (it is forced), there is no other option. They saw this boy who doesn't have a dad or mom, he spends a lot of time on the streets, they pick him up and say “you know what? We're going to offer you this." So the boy, whether he wants or not, has to give in, and if he refuses, it has its consequences (...) Or in cases where they have parents but they go to work everyday, they leave the child at home... Obviously they won't be at home, they will be in the corners, out there, wanting to look for alternatives appropriate to his age, but the community cannot offer them due to the situation we are in. So what can the guys do? Take what is at hand.


BN: You have mentioned that there is a way to recruit, among them the most vulnerable people, on the streets, etc. However, you also mention that there are those children who, in the best of cases, have a mother or a father. You were saying that if the parents object, there would be consequences, what kind of consequences would there be?


AI: The retaliations are against the family. There are many houses in our sector that are uninhabited, they have taken their two or three little things or just what they are wearing, they have taken their children and have left. The house is abandoned, but above all a life is thrown away. As the house is abandoned, the gangs hold meetings there, they have (security) cameras. Even now, another way (of surveillance) is that in each corner they have a camera.


BN: A "security camera" controlled by the gang?


AI: Yes, a camera. They connect it themselves. Some neighbors have been asked for permission, but not all agreed. Nor did anyone have the courage to say not to put it on.


BN: And that functions as part of the services they provide? That is, are they now in charge of ‘’providing security’’?


AI: It is what they have told to the community.



Sexual exploitation


Finally, although the recruitment of people is mainly masculinized and is destined for drug trafficking and hit men, AI mentions that the recruitment of girls and adolescents is given to become "property" of the gang leaders. It is estimated that around fifteen to twenty girls have been involved with gangs in the last two years. However, although the families are aware of the situation, this relationship of submission with these leaders continues, since these dynamics represent an economic livelihood for them.


However, in one case, a girl was wounded (shot) for rejecting one of these leaders, and since then, many families within the community have been concerned. On some occasions, many of them end up pregnant and abandoned. Some mothers try to occupy their daughters with activities to get them away from this reality, so AI mentions the idea of taking these people out of their current environment and offering them alternatives (recreational ones).


BN: And that (trafficking and drugs) is then, in general terms, masculinized: children, youth, men. But what about the women in the community?


AI: Well, there are usually (recruited) girls of 12, 13, 14 and 15 years old. I'm going to talk about the leader of the band, the highest authority in the community. He had his wife and his children (...) but from time to time he began to hang out with the girls of the neighborhood, 12, 13, 15 years old, more or less. I didn't know a 16 or 17-year-old (...) In each neighborhood or in each sector, one or two were known to belong to him.


BN: To belong?


AI: From his property, yes, because if this girl started hanging out with him, she couldn't hang out with anyone else. And this girl, I imagine, was always supervised by a person he placed her.


BN: Before you continue…being with that person wasn't forced, was it?


AI: On some occasions it was by force, but not with all (the girls).


BN: He chose who he owned.


AI: yes


BN: So the relationship is with the girl, and what the family does is to tolerate because through her…


AI: They perceive an economic support on that side, yes.


BN: And has there been no resistance? Any kind of resistance?


AI: No. However, I met a girl who no longer wanted anything with him, so he told her to leave (from the community) if she didn't want anything with him. The girl didn't leave, so he sent someone to hurt her, they shot her in the leg. She is about 14 years old, she is very young (…) and she has the shot there.


BN: She was attacked because…?


AI: Because she didn't want to be with him. The girl did not want it anymore.


CDH highlights the value of giving us this testimony in the current circumstances that Guayaquil is going through. We encourage citizens to avoid silence out of fear and to build safe spaces to raise their voices in our Peace communities.