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A member of Ecuador’s armed forces was killed during an “exchange of fire” with drug traffickers in the province of Esmeralda, on the border with Colombia, where the authorities declared a state of emergency a few days ago, the army announced yesterday Monday.

A state of emergency was declared on Friday in this coastal province, for the second time in a few months. In November 2022, President Guillermo Lasso extended the measure to the coastal provinces of Guayas and Santo Domingo, following a raid by drug traffickers during a prisoner transfer that left eight dead.

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The state of emergency is set to last 60 days and under the measure the army and police will “coordinate their efforts” to “maintain public order and defend internal security”, according to a government statement. By definition, the measure signals the suspension of freedoms and rights such as movement, assembly, association, inviolability of private residence and correspondence from 21:00 to 05:00.

Esmeraldas is among the regions of Ecuador most affected by drug-trafficking gang violence. Since January, there have been 70 homicides and four attacks on police facilities.

Between Colombia and Peru—the two countries where the largest quantities of cocaine are produced in the world—Ecuador has transformed in recent years from part of the transit routes into a major hub for the trafficking of the white powder to markets especially in Europe and the US.

In 2021, authorities announced that 210 tons of drugs, mostly cocaine, were seized, a record amount. In 2022, Quito reported seizures of over 200 tons. Mr Lasso’s government has declared “war” on gangs fighting for control of trafficking routes.