Russia’s Economic Coercion Should Be a Wake-up Call for Latin America

Russia’s Economic Coercion Should Be a Wake-up Call for Latin America
Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa attends a tourism conference in Madrid, Spain, Jan. 24, 2024 (Sipa photo by David Cruz Sanz via AP Images).

How many bananas is a surface-to-air missile system worth? That absurd question was at the heart of a standoff with major implications for security in Ukraine and Ecuador last month, and the outcome foreshadows how global competition among great powers may play out in Latin America moving forward.

Both Ukraine and Ecuador are at war, but those two wars look quite different. Ukraine is fending off a military invasion from its much larger neighbor, Russia. The fighting includes elements of conventional and trench warfare, as well as the use of significant air assets, missiles, rockets and drones by both sides, at times to strike civilian targets and infrastructure.

Ecuador is combating gangs that threaten stability from within. President Daniel Noboa declared the country to be in a state of internal armed conflict in January amid an eruption of gang violence. He tasked the military with targeting organized criminal structures that have made the country among the most violent in Latin America. The security situation has improved in recent weeks, with thousands detained since the start of the crackdown, but the costs of the military mobilization and detentions are significant, raising questions about the effort’s sustainability. Additionally, despite the detentions of many alleged low-level gang members, the leadership structures of most of the biggest gangs remain in place, biding their time and continuing to target prosecutors who investigate crime too deeply.

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