Ecuador Shaken by Brutal War Between Government and Gangs

Published: 11 January 2024

Ecuador Arrests State-of-EmergencyThe individuals that entered TC Television were captured and will be prosecuted for terrorism. (Photo: Fiscalía Ecuador/X, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

Ecuador descended further into violence after President Daniel Noboa introduced a state of emergency following the disappearance of two imprisoned leaders of the country’s most prominent gangs, prison riots and explosions in several cities.

The President’s move enables law enforcement to carry out urgent actions against 22 criminal groups operating in the country, but those responded with more attacks.

Officials said on Thursday that they are fighting against nearly 20,000 “terrorists” and that they have recaptured some of the gang members who escaped from several prisons and arrested hundreds of other suspected gang members.

Adolfo Macias Villamar, a.k.a Fito, the leader of the Los Choneros gang, escaped from Guayaquil prison on January 7. Two days later Fabricio Colón Pico, a.k.a. Captain Pico, head of the rival Los Lobos gang and the second-largest in the country, escaped alongside 30 inmates from Riobamba prison and has not been recaptured, as confirmed by the mayor of Riobamba.

Los Lobos and Los Choneros operate in and even control several of Ecuador's prisons, engaging in illicit activities such as drug trafficking. They also take part in large-scale prison massacres.

In the midst of this crisis, the National Service of Integral Attention to Adults Deprived of Liberty and Adolescent Offenders (SNAI) has reported riots in various prisons in the country with hundreds of guards taken hostage by inmates.

Also, a group of armed and hooded men interrupted the live news broadcast of Ecuador's TC Television channel and subdued journalists and other workers of the television station while the transmission was still on the air. Their message: "Don't play with the mafias."

"They were taken hostage and some were beaten. Others had their belongings taken from them in front of the television audience. They were held at gunpoint and forced to ask the police on camera not to intervene, while they cried and hugged each other. They were released after an hour and a half of terror," said the Press and Society Institute in a solidarity letter to the victims.

Courts will prosecute 13 captured individuals for terrorism regarding the TV studio ordeal, the Attorney General's Office Ecuador reported.

Videos of gunmen threatening guards, lootings, explosions, and killings are circulating in local news and social networks. This is the first major security crisis that President Daniel Noboa is facing since he was elected last year in the middle of uncertainty and violence following the assassination of candidate Fernando Villavicencio.