Editorial Staff
2 months ago

Editorial Staff
2 months ago

State of Emergency declared on Ecuador after the prison escape of gang boss sparks violence and conflict right across the country

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by Mick the Ram

 

Ecuador, once regarded as one of the more peaceful nations in South America, finds itself in the grip of a situation that President Daniel Naboa has described as an “armed internal conflict” which has led to him declaring that the country is in a “State of Emergency” and forcing him to mobilise the Armed Forces.

The trigger appears to have been the absconding from prison of Adolfo Macías Villamar, better known as Fito, a notorious gang boss. Since his disappearance from his cell on 7 January there have been murders, riots, kidnappings, a spate of explosive devices being set off in several cities and a nightly curfew introduced.

Now in the latest incident, a group of hooded gunmen have forced journalists to kneel on the floor live on air in a TV studio in Guayaquil, the largest city and chief port of Ecuador, with the intention of having a statement read out, leaving a cameraman shot in the leg, and another’s arm broken.

Elsewhere, drug cartels are fighting over the control of cocaine routes and just to the north in the city of Riobamba, around 40 inmates including another convicted drug lord, have managed to break out of a prison and make their escape.

Country out of control

In a total break down of law and order, police officers have been killed, with others kidnapped and in numerous prisons up and down the country, inmates have taken guards hostage with threats to kill if soldiers attempt to regain control.

Much of the unrest has occurred since Fito – who is leader of the very powerful and influential Los Choneros gang – went missing at the weekend from La Regional Prison. In there the 44-year-old enjoyed a good life in a spacious cell, decorated with murals.

Tipped off about prison move

He seemingly was about to be moved to an alternative jail – La Roca – within the same compound. It is not clear exactly how Fito managed to get out, but two prison guards have been charged with helping him escape.

This had the knock-on effect of sparking riots in at least six jails across the country, and guards taken hostage, with a excessive violence dealt.

Police officers targetted

Outside of the prisons, three police officers were seized while on duty in the city of Machala. Another officer was abducted in the capital, Quito. Two more officers were killed by “armed criminals” in the nearby town of Nobol.

Explosions were then set off in the city of Cuenca, with the President responding by declaring a 60-day nationwide State of Emergency, running alongside a nightly curfew between 11pm and 5am.

Sinister gang threats

Fito’s gang are known to engage in contract killings, extortion and drug dealing, and are also believed to have forged an alliance with Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa drugs cartel, which smuggles cocaine from neighbouring Colombia, through Ecuador’s port cities to the US and Europe.

The gang leader gave an interview to Ecuadorean journalists Andersson Boscán and Mónica Velásquez back in 2021 warning that any attempts to move him or other gang members to La Roca, would trigger a “sudden death” scenario in which “there will be riots at all prisons”.

Backlash

The State of Emergency allows the president to send soldiers into prisons to restore order. Police can also stop people in the streets to search them for weapons, as well as being able to carry out searches in their homes if they suspect arms or explosives are hidden inside.

However, the move prompted an immediate backlash from the controlling gangs. One of the police officers kidnapped while on duty was forced to read out a video-taped statement warning the president that “you declared war, you will get war. You declared a state of emergency, we declare police, civilians and soldiers to be the spoils of war.”

Classed as terrorist

Undeterred, the 36-year-old president ordered the Armed Forces to “neutralise” the gangs behind the violence. He also published a list of 22 gangs which he said would now be considered “terrorist organisations”.

The head of the Armed Forces also stressed that there would be “no negotiations” with the gangs who were causing the violence.

Soldiers overpower gunmen

In the TV studio the masked gunmen pointed high-powered weapons at terrified journalists heads, as the cameras were rolling during a live broadcast.

They had forced their way into the studios of TC Television in Guayaquil, and tried to compel one of the presenters to read out a message live on air. Eventually soldiers were able to overpower the perpetrators and 13 arrests were made.

Nevertheless, the incident was witnessed on live TV by hundreds of thousands of Ecuadoreans, and has left a nation fearing for its immediate future

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