U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), was part of a U.S. delegation that visited Ecuador, January 22-26, to explore with Ecuadorian counterparts ways to work together more effectively to counter the threat posed by transnational criminal organizations.
During its week-long visit, the delegation, led by Special Presidential Advisor to the Americas Christopher Dodd, met with Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa, Minister of Defense Gian Carlo Loffredo, Attorney General Diana Salazar Méndez, and Chief of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces’ Joint Command Rear Admiral Jaime Patricio Vela Erazo, as well as other senior government officials and high-ranking officers, to deepen bilateral relations and discuss security, counter drug cooperation, migration, and economic development support. Discussions focused on the “ongoing commitment to democratic values and the rule of law,” the White House said in a statement. Other topics addressed included assistance in criminal investigations, intelligence sharing, and cooperation to combat cyberattacks, among many others.
On the day of the delegation’s arrival, a Ukrainian Antonov aircraft landed at the Guayaquil Airport carrying U.S. equipment for the Ecuadorian forces. In a statement, the White House indicated that the U.S. government facilitated the delivery of more than 20,000 bullet proof vests and more than $1 million worth in critical security and emergency response equipment, including ambulances, trucks, forklifts, engines for boats, and defense logistic support vehicles. The equipment was donated during a ceremony on January 25 at the Huancavilca Military Fort, local news media reported.
The visit of the U.S. delegation “is a powerful political indication of support for the administration of President Daniel Noboa,” Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabriela Sommerfeld told the press following the January 22 reunion with President Noboa, adding that it also represents “a confirmation of the strengthening of bilateral cooperation.”
The U.S. delegation’s visit marks the United States’ deep commitment to its longstanding friendship with Ecuador and to supporting the South American country in its fight against terror groups. This is Gen. Richardson’s second trip to Ecuador, following her September 2022 visit, during the South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC) hosted by Ecuador.
“We already have a very solid investment portfolio with Ecuador. Obviously, it’s over time. And it’s about cooperation between military forces, between U.S. Southern Command and the Ecuadorian Army,” Gen. Richardson said in an interview with Ecuadorian daily Primicias. “So, our portfolio is worth $93.4 million, and it not only includes military equipment transfer, but also humanitarian assistance and disaster response, [and] professional military education.”
In an interview January 22 with Ecuadorian television network Teleamazonas, President Noboa welcomed the U.S. support. “The United States, and the world, has seen what is happening in Ecuador and knows how important it is to protect Ecuador,” he said. Days prior, on January 17, Noboa told CNN that he “gladly accepts U.S. cooperation. We need equipment, we need weapons, and we need intelligence.”
Explosion of violence
Less than two months after taking office, President Noboa declared war on gangs, issuing a nationwide state of emergency and since then announcing a state of “armed internal conflict” amid prison riots, the escape of a high-value prisoner, and an explosion of violence at the hands of transnational criminal organizations.
The surge in violence sparked alarms abroad, leading Colombia and Peru to bolsters their borders, with Peru putting its northern border under a state of emergency.
“Let us remember that no country or region is exempt from the devastating effects of terrorism,” Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro said via X.
Expressing his solidarity with the people of Ecuador, the European Union top diplomat and foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said via X that the gangs’ activities were “a direct attack on democracy and the rule of law.”
The United States for its part, through a State Department statement, condemned the attacks and reaffirmed its “commitment to a close partnership with Ecuador, including in the fight against criminal organizations.”
Prior to the Monday arrival of the U.S. delegation, U.S. Secret Service agents have been on the ground providing security training to Ecuadorian Armed Forces and Police officers, including dignitary protection techniques, the U.S Embassy in Ecuador said via X on January 21.
“This is done within the framework of international cooperation with Ecuador in security issues,” the Presidency of Ecuador said via X. “That way security forces are strengthened to take care of Ecuadorians and to return peace to the country.”
U.S. security forces and their Ecuadorian counterparts enjoy a long history of security cooperation focused on mutual interests and support, including air and maritime security; global peacekeeping; illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; humanitarian assistance; and human rights.
In August 2023 for instance, SOUTHCOM delivered $3.1 million worth of military, communication, and infrastructure equipment to the Ecuadorian Army and Navy as part of its commitment to Ecuador to support maritime interdiction operations and strengthen capabilities to combat narcotrafficking. In her interview with Primicias, Gen. Richardson said the U.S. would also deliver a C-130 aircraft in February.
“We want to help Ecuador through this,” Gen. Richardson told Primicias. “And it’s not just Ecuador, but all the other countries in the region that are being challenged by these criminal threats, climate change, drought, food insecurity, disaster response, irregular migration, insecurity, and instability.”