Could Ecuador be seeing the rise of a new rebel insurgency?

The Armed Revolutionary Insurgent Forces of Ecuador, a previously unknown rebel group, claimed responsibility for a double bombing last week.

By , Guest blogger

A clandestine leftist organization has claimed responsibility for two bombings in Ecuador’s largest city, sparking concerns about a nascent insurgency in the South American country.

On Nov. 22, two separate bombs exploded nearly simultaneously in downtown Guayaquil, the first of which went off in front of the local Ministry of Health offices, while the second detonated several blocks away. While no one was seriously injured in either incident, the second explosion sent dozens of leaflets flying through the air, all of which bore a call to arms against the center-left government of President Rafael Correa.

The flyers were titled “The Right to Work is Guaranteed by the Constitution and We Will Defend it Through Blood and Fire,” and issued a scathing critique of President Correa’s recent decision to fire thousands of doctors and other public health professionals to rein in federal spending. Calling on the youths of Ecuador to “join the ranks of the militias and people’s army in order to rid ourselves once and for all of the rightist mafia known as Alianza Pais [Correa’s political party],” the statement was signed by a group calling itself the Armed Revolutionary Insurgent Forces of Ecuador (FAIRE).

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The appearance of a leftist insurgency is unusual for Ecuador, which, unlike neighboring Peru and Colombia, has been free of large-scale insurgent groups for most of its history. The most notable left-wing rebel group in Ecuador’s past was a small urban guerrilla front known as the Eloy Alfaro Popular Armed Forces. Named after an early 20th century revolutionary, the guerrillas carried out a series of kidnappings and bank robberies in the mid to late 1980s, but were swiftly dismantled by security forces. By 1989, the group’s remaining members had agreed to lay down their arms.

Since then, several small-scale rebel groups have emerged in the country, such as the Red Sun Communist Party of Ecuador, the Group of Popular Combatants, the Alfarist Liberation Army, and the Guerrilla Coordinator of Ecuador. However, none of these have been able to mobilize mass support, and do not pose a significant threat to the Ecuadorian government. It is unclear if any links exist between these groups and the FAIRE, but police claim that the Nov. 22 bombings were first they had heard of the group, suggesting that it may be an entirely new force.

The real security threat does not lie in potential in collusion between these groups, however, but on the northern border with Colombia, where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are known to operate. As InSight Crime has documented, the FARC’s presence in Ecuador was an open secret for years, and Ecuadorian security forces, like their Venezuelan counterparts, seemed to turn a blind eye to FARC activity in the border region. This changed in March 2008, when the Colombian air force bombed a FARC camp located in Ecuadorian territory, killing Luis Edgar Devia Silva, alias “Raul Reyes.”

Although the attack caused Ecuador to shut off diplomatic relations with Colombia for two years, it also brought unprecedented international attention to the FARC’s activities in Ecuador. This, combined with the fact that Correa himself has been accused of accepting donations from the FARC for his latest presidential campaign, has prompted the Ecuadorian government to crack down on the rebels.

With the loss of Ecuador’s tacit support, the FARC have also lost an incentive not to conduct operations on Ecuadorian soil, meaning that they could potentially be a valuable ally to nascent guerrilla groups such as the FAIRE. While it is hard to see what the FARC would gain by supporting Ecuadorian insurgents, Colombian intelligence officials allege that such international cooperation has already been documented, most notably between the FARC and Peru’s Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso).

Because support from the FARC would almost certainly mean unwanted attention to the Colombians' camps along the border, the FAIRE would likely have to become far more influential for the FARC to want to collaborate with them. The FAIRE would have to develop a much larger support base, and likely expand their operations beyond mere bombings, to include confrontations with security forces. Ultimately, the group is a long way from this, and if their luck resembles that of the other small insurgencies in Ecuador, they’ll be taken down long before they become such a threat.

--- Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.

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