MEXICO CITY — A spate of anti-immigrant attacks broke out in Ecuador after a Venezuelan man was filmed killing his pregnant girlfriend on a public road as police officers and pedestrians looked on.
In videos circulated on social media, the attacker, Yordy Rafael L.G., is seen dragging 22-year-old Diana Carolina Ramírez through the streets of Ibarra, in northern Ecuador, and yelling, “I’m going to do it! I’m going to do it!” before stabbing her several times Saturday night.
The attack drew widespread condemnation and incited anti-immigrant protests in Ibarra shortly after. Videos of Ecuadorians chasing and beating Venezuelans on the streets began to circulate online within hours; in one, a mob is seen looting a house where Venezuelans were reportedly believed to be living.
The response to Saturday’s attack underscored growing tensions in the region over an unprecedented Venezuelan exodus across South and Central America. The United Nations estimates that 220,000 Venezuelans are living in Ecuador, where the government declared a state of emergency in three provinces in August after a spike in arrivals.
After the attack, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno tightened rules for Venezuelans in the country and deployed special police units to patrol the streets. “We have opened the door for them but we will not sacrifice anyone’s safety,” Moreno tweeted shortly after L.G. was taken into custody.
Hyperinflation and widespread shortages have forced Venezuelans to flee in staggering numbers: Colombia is currently hosting over 1 million, Peru about half a million, and Panama some 94,000, according to the UN. The crisis there is unlikely to abate anytime soon: President Nicolás Maduro won reelection in May amid allegations of electoral fraud.
But many Venezuelans have been greeted with violence across the region. In the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima, angry mobs ran out a group of Venezuelans who had set up a camp and burned their belongings in August. That month, Ricardo Belmont, then-mayoral candidate for Peru’s capital city, Lima, warned that Venezuelans were taking Peruvians’ jobs and said he would ask them for “certificates of good conduct.”
On Monday, thousands of people streamed into the streets of the capital city of Quito to protest xenophobia and gender violence.
The attack Saturday exacerbated tensions between the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Monday that Moreno had “instigated a spiral of xenophobic violence” and that his government was responsible for the safety of Venezuelans there.
Arreaza also accused Moreno of evading responsibility for a crime committed “before the eyes of the public force.” Videos of the attack show officers training their guns on the perpetrator as he keeps Ramírez in a chokehold, but did not intervene even as L.G.’s behavior became more erratic.
María Paula Romo, Ecuador’s interior minister, said Monday that Ibarra’s police chief had been fired and admitted that “nothing justifies last night’s inaction.”
Still, Ecuador’s Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner announced that Venezuelans looking to enter the country would be required to prove they hadn’t been convicted of any crimes.
“We must differentiate between Venezuelans who are fleeing Maduro’s government and those who take advantage of this situation to commit crimes,” said Sonnenholzner.
Moreno softened his language Monday night, saying that “migrant brothers” who came to Ecuador seeking a better life should not be abused or expelled.