Ecuador is facing an unprecedented surge in violence and criminality, ranking among the top 10 countries globally for criminal incidence. Currently, it holds the highest rate of violent deaths in Latin America, with 47.25 deaths per 100,000 residents, a figure eight times higher than in 2016, the year Ecuador saw its lowest rate since 1980. Once the second safest country in South America, Ecuador has now become the most violent in less than a decade.

Firearms play a pivotal role in this security crisis. The 2023 Global Organized Crime Index highlights arms trafficking as one of the fastest-growing criminal markets in Ecuador. Firearms empower criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining, and they are a means of asserting territorial control. In 2023, firearms were implicated in nine out of every ten violent deaths.

Since 2020, homicide rates have nearly doubled annually, with firearm-related incidents surpassing regional and global averages. Young men have been the primary victims, but the number of female victims has also surged, with 321 femicides recorded in 2023, 37% involving firearms.

This escalation is attributed to the loosening of regulations governing the import, manufacture, commerce, and carrying of firearms. Despite rising armed violence, the Ecuadorian government relaxed several firearm control measures on April 1, 2023. This decision, made amid institutional weaknesses, growing corruption in security sectors, and public criticism, has expanded the legal market for firearms, exacerbating the violence.

This report explores the links between arms trafficking, regulatory changes, rising criminality, and increasing violence in Ecuador. It examines the types of firearms in the country, their origins, costs, and trafficking routes. The report concludes with urgent recommendations for addressing the arms trade through national and regional strategies to break the current cycle of violence and weaken criminal organizations.