Ecuadorian Defense Minister Major General (ret.) Luis Lara Jaramillo knows his country’s Armed Forces firsthand. During his 38-year military career he led several special operations groups and served as infantry commander and as defense attaché to the Ecuadorian Embassy in Chile, among other roles, until he reached the highest military position as head of the Armed Forces’ Joint Command, between 2019 and 2021.
Today, Minister Lara seeks to ensure that the Armed Forces have the technological, human, and infrastructure resources to fulfill their mission. He met with Diálogo in his ministerial office to discuss his priorities.
Diálogo: During your inauguration ceremony on April 26, 2022, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso said, “I have full confidence in your positive contributions to the security of the country.” What are your plans to provide security to Ecuadorians?
Ecuadorian Defense Minister Major General (ret.) Luis Lara Jaramillo: During a complex time for the nation, Mr. President opted for a change of course in the management of Ecuador’s national defense, relying on a new work team with a strategic approach that contemplates both the main mission of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, as well as the protection of the rights, freedoms, and guarantees of Ecuadorians, which is also a constitutional mandate for the Armed Forces. To this must be added the responsibilities in the protection of the strategic infrastructure, the support to other State institutions and, especially, the support to the National Police in the crucial battle against narcotrafficking and international organized crime.
The announcement I made regarding the participation of the Armed Forces in the area of security has substantially increased the confidence of Ecuadorians in the public administration to face this ruthless attack of criminal mafias against the State and the gradual recovery of peace in Ecuador.
At the same time, we are updating strategic defense planning with a 20-year outlook, which will allow Ecuador to adapt its policies to the country’s most pressing needs in terms of national defense, public, and state security, as well as implement regional and international cooperation for the protection of citizens’ rights, the safeguarding of the environment, and the permanent search for peace at the global level.
Diálogo: What progress are being made to modernize the security forces of Ecuador?
Minister Lara: The comprehensive proposal to adapt defense policies and strategies has to do with a substantial increase in the activities of narcotrafficking and organized crime, which have had repercussions and created a situation of violence that is absolutely unusual in the country. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is provoked violence, it is a reaction of the mafias against the State that realize that control measures are generating results.
We are working in an accelerated manner to update national defense policies, which will determine the 2040 Strategic Plan of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces that proposes the development of the Armed Forces’ joint and specific strategic capabilities, promotes collaboration and complementarity among institutions, promotes a culture of defense and security in society, and maintains a foreign policy of cooperation in defense of peace. This framework of thought will guide the operational plans of the Forces until the end of this government.
One of the novelties is the definition of force design based on the use of flexible joint units composed of professional, well-trained soldiers, ingrained with an ethic of responsibility for the fulfillment of the mission. The policies emphasize that the Armed Forces are an institution that coordinates national integration; that they are a school of civism, reinforcing the values of national identity and unity. They emphasize the new tasks of the Armed Forces within the framework of security and defense. This makes urgent the implementation of a modernization plan of National Defense institutions, the first phase of which will be carried out in the Ministry itself. The main objective is the Armed Forces Strengthening Plan, which will make it possible to provide them with the necessary capabilities demanded by the current regional and global strategic scenarios and to ensure the efficiency and sustainability of defense in the medium and long term.
Diálogo: What is the objective of the recently created Joint Task Force as a new security and defense strategy?
Minister Lara: The creation of the joint task forces is part of the strategy to provide emerging solutions to narcotrafficking and crime problems in specific border areas or at crucial points in the cities. By constitutional norm, a state of exception must be declared for the Armed Forces to be able to intervene in these issues in support of the National Police, which is the institution responsible for citizen security and public order in the country. Therefore, this intervention is necessarily limited in time. Regulatory reforms in the Constitution and laws are required for the Armed Forces to continuously intervene over time to confront organized crime.
The results of the joint task forces in Esmeraldas and Guayas are positive; significant reductions in violence have been achieved in the areas intervened. However, these results will have to be evaluated once the mission concludes and the police are left in charge of security in these areas.
Diálogo: How does Ecuador work with border countries to confront transnational threats together?
Minister Lara: Ecuador has a solid tradition of coordinated work with other countries in political, economic, or security integration fields. we have signed international or bilateral treaties and agreements on migration, border control, security, and defense issues. We are part of all the defense and security systems of the Americas, so our policy of cooperation and integration in the field of defense and security is evident. Relations with the armed forces of neighboring countries are fluid and are framed within the framework of institutional cooperation, the exchange of information, and the implementation of coordinated control operations when necessary. We can assert that the current scenario is one of cooperation and good will among the countries.
Diálogo: What kind of cooperation does Ecuador have with the United States in defense matters?
Minister Lara: Ecuador and the United States have always maintained an excellent relationship of cooperation and friendship. In 1974, the U.S. established a military office in the country, later called the Military Group, for liaison and cooperation with the Ecuadorian Armed Forces. As a result of the government’s changes in 2014, they made the decision to conclude cooperation activities with the Military Group. At the beginning of 2018, we resumed collaboration with the U.S. Embassy to determine aspects of military cooperation in defense matters, thus, in October of that same year, the Office of Defense Cooperation in the U.S. Embassy came about. From then on we resumed planning for cooperation in various fields: training, maintenance, and logistics support, among others. For example, with the Kentucky National Guard we’ve had a good experience in sharing training for immediate response to any type of disaster; in another area, several exercises have been carried out this year, such as PANAMAX and UNITAS, and we are also planning exercise SENTINEL for 2023.
Diálogo: On June 6, 2022, together with the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama, Ecuador signed a memorandum of understanding in support of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor. How important is this signature for the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing?
Minister Lara: This is a policy of great significance and importance for Ecuador, a country that has traditionally been very proactive in the defense of its maritime resources. Ecuador, within the framework of its ocean policy, has signed not only this memorandum but all the instruments that allow us to protect our oceanic rights and participation in the protection of Antarctica. The actions adopted by the government and implemented by the Navy are aimed precisely at combating illegal fishing and discouraging the presence of fishing fleets in protected maritime areas, especially in the Galapagos Islands, a natural heritage of humanity.