The Soapbox: Ecuadorian gangs, tensions in the Congo, North Korean missile tests

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN’s news desk analyzing major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor

In Ecuador, gang attacks prompt state of emergency

Ecuador’s president declared a state of emergency in two coastal provinces after a rash of gang violence on Nov. 1. The attacks, which were initiated by a transfer of inmates at a nearby prison, were only the latest in a years-long crime wave plaguing the once-peaceful South American country.

Mexican and Colombian cartels saw Ecuador as an easy-to-exploit, lucrative nation into which they could expand operations after a series of failed anti-drug policies in the 2000s. While Ecuador is familiar with gang violence, well-funded drug traffickers’ fight for territory has led to violent escalations.

On the day of the recent violence, gangs committed at least nine attacks, which included planting explosives, in Guayas and Esmeraldas, killing five police officers. Prisoners in Guayas also took guards hostage. On Nov. 2, 28 individuals were arrested in connection to the attacks. President Guillermo Lasso issued a state of emergency in the two provinces and instituted a 9 p.m. curfew.

Ecuador has been scrutinized by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch for a series of prison riots and killings enabled by gang control of facilities and overcrowding. Since February 2021, more than 400 Ecuadorian inmates have been killed.

“What happened between last night and today in Guayaquil and Esmeraldas clearly shows the limits which the transnational organized crime is willing to surpass,” Lasso said in a video address translated by VOA news. “We are taking actions which worry them, hence the violent reaction.”

In the Congo, a rebel group reignites tensions with Rwanda

The M23 rebel group resumed fighting government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Oct. 20, despite an April ceasefire. M23’s initial offensive in 2012 forced more than 140,000 people to flee their homes.

M23, whose members are made up mostly of the Tutsi ethnic group, claims that the government has failed to fully integrate Tutsis. Discrimination against Tutsis is prominant in the region, with the infamous 1994 genocide in Rwanda, killing 800,000 people.

The fighting has renewed Congolese tensions with Rwanda, as both the DRC and the U.N. found that Rwanda — whose president is Tutsi — was responsible for funding and encouraging M23 in the 2012 offensive. That same year, the United States and the United Kingdom withheld funds from Rwanda, accusing the nation of contributing to M23 war crimes, including the use of child soldiers.

A similar U.N. report about the early 2022 offensive released in August also determined that Rwandan armed forces operated with M23. On Oct. 31, the DRC dismissed the Rwandan ambassador, accusing the country of once again funding rebel groups.

MONUSCO, the U.N. stabilization mission in the DRC, has been supporting the Congolese army against M23. On Nov. 2, it made a “strategic and tactical withdrawal” from Rumangabo, an eastern Congolese military base, ceding territory to M23. That same day, at the nearby Kanyarutshinya refugee camp near the city of Goma, angry civilians threw stones at and set fire to MONUSCO trucks, displeased with the U.N.’s response to the conflict. 

“The Secretary-General calls on all parties to facilitate humanitarian access to the affected population, and to ensure protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law,” said Stéphanie Dujarric, a spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General. “The Secretary-General reaffirms that the United Nations, through his Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and MONUSCO, will continue to support the Congolese Government and people in their efforts to bring about peace and stability in the east of the country.”

In North Korea, missile tests and an ICBM launch worry the West

After an unprecedented number of missile tests last week, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile into the sea on Nov. 3, despite the U.N. Security Council’s ban on such testing. The ICBM seems to have failed, though Japanese citizens initially received alerts to seek shelter.

Pyongyang’s tests appear to be triggered by joint U.S. and South Korea military drills called Vigilant Storm, which began on Oct. 31. The drills are in response to North Korea’s preparations to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.

In response to the missiles, the U.S. and South Korea have extended Vigilant Storm. 

The U.N. Security Council banned North Korea from nuclear and missile testing in 2006, following the country’s first nuclear test. The council has passed several additional resolutions to strengthen sanctions, but Pyongyang continues to defy international authority. While experts disagree, some analysts believe North Korea has the nuclear material and capabilities to build over 100 warheads, and the ability to mount them on missiles capable of reaching the United States.

On Nov. 3, as a result of the missile tests, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Jong-sup, and both nations reaffirmed their positions on potential North Korean nuclear attacks.

“Any nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners, including the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime,” a joint communique released by the U.S. Department of Defense reads. “The Secretary and minister strongly condemned the DPRK’s escalatory activities and violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including ballistic missile test launches, multiple rocket launches, and firing of coastal artillery and called upon the international community to hold the DPRK responsible for its actions.” 

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected].