France Media Agency Ecuadorian police officers surround suspects lying on the ground outside the premises of a public television in Guayaquil, after armed men burst into the channel's set on Tuesday afternoon.
Paola Lopez – Agence France-Presse in Quito
January 9, 2024
The President of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, declared his country in a state of “internal armed conflict” and ordered the “neutralization” of criminal groups involved in drug trafficking, on the third day of an unprecedented security crisis that has left least 10 dead, according to an initial assessment.
In a decree signed in the afternoon, President Noboa recognized “the existence of an internal armed conflict” and ordered “the mobilization and intervention of the armed forces and the police national […] to guarantee national sovereignty and integrity against organized crime, terrorist organizations and non-state belligerents.”
Having already decreed a state of emergency on Monday, Mr. Noboa, 36, the youngest president in the history of Ecuador, this time ordered the “neutralization” of all these criminal groups, of which he provided a exhaustive list, while emphasizing the need for the armed forces to act “with respect for human rights”.
These criminal gangs, most of which were simple street gangs just a few years ago, have become the bloody players in drug trafficking with international tentacles, as Ecuador has established itself as the main export point for cocaine produced in neighboring Peru and Colombia. Once a haven of peace, the country is today ravaged by the violence of these gangs.
Public enemy number 1, the leader of the Choneros (one of these gangs numbering around 8,000 men, according to experts), Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito”, disappeared on Sunday from the prison of Guayaquil (southwest). On Tuesday, one of the leaders of Los Lobos, another powerful drug trafficking gang, also escaped.
Live hostage situation
Last and spectacular episode, armed men burst into the set of a public television station in Guayaquil on Tuesday afternoon, briefly taking journalists and other channel employees hostage.
Amidst the gunfire, the broadcast of these surreal images continued live for several minutes. Until apparently the police intervened shouting “Police! Police ! “.
No one appears to have been killed or injured in the raid, and 13 attackers were arrested, police said.
“These are extremely difficult days,” Presidential Communications Secretary Roberto Izurieta acknowledged on Tuesday, with the executive having taken “the important decision to fight head-on against these terrorist threats.”
The escape of “Fito” was followed by several mutinies and hostage-taking of guards in various prisons, all relayed by frightening videos broadcast on social networks showing the captives threatened by knives masked detainees. On Tuesday, new videos emerged, this time showing the execution of at least two guards, by shooting and hanging.
In a press release, the prison administration (SNAI) reported that 139 members of its staff are currently still held hostage in five prisons in the country. SNAI has not commented on the execution videos.
Shops and schools closed
The state of emergency declared Monday by Mr. Noboa, elected in November on the promise of restoring security, extends to the entire territory and for 60 days. The army is thus authorized to maintain order in the streets (with a nighttime curfew) and prisons. It has clearly had little effect so far: numerous incidents, including the kidnapping of seven police officers, have also been reported across the country.
In the port city of Guayaquil, where criminal groups are all-powerful, the police chief said the violence left eight dead and three injured. Two police officers were also “viciously murdered by armed criminals” in the town of Nobol, near Guayaquil.
The images broadcast on social networks, difficult to verify, give an idea of this violence and fuel the impression of chaos which is gradually settling in certain localities of the country: Molotov cocktail attacks, cars set on fire, random shootings at police officers, scenes of panic…
In the large port of Guayaquil, plunged into psychosis, many hotel establishments and restaurants have closed their doors to the public, while army vehicles patrol the streets, it was reported observed. In the capital Quito, gripped by fear, stores and shopping centers also closed prematurely.
In the evening, the Ministry of Education ordered the temporary closure of all schools in the country.
The security forces, for their part, have broadcast strong images of their interventions since Sunday in various penitentiaries, showing hundreds of detainees in their underwear, hands on their heads and lying unceremoniously on the ground.
The head of US diplomacy for Latin America, Brian Nichols, said the United States was “extremely concerned about the violence” and was “in close contact with President [Daniel] Noboa and the Ecuadorian government […] ready to provide assistance.”
Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru expressed support for Ecuador, saying they reject violence.