What is happening in Ecuador?

What is happening in Ecuador?

/ 08:19 AM January 11, 2024

Ecuador is reeling from a fresh wave of violence that has shaken the South American nation

Soldiers and police officers stand guard outside the presidential palace following a wave of violence around the nation, prompting President Daniel Noboa to declare gangs to be terrorist organizations that will be hunted by the military in Quito, Ecuador, on January 10, 2024. REUTERS/Karen Toro

Ecuador is reeling from a fresh wave of violence that has shaken the South American nation, with President Daniel Noboa launching a military crackdown on gangs after criminal groups took more than 100 prison staff hostage and armed men dramatically interrupted a live television broadcast.

The crisis highlights the challenges ahead for Noboa, who took power in November after pledging during an election campaign to curb violence as drug trafficking gangs increasingly transport cocaine through Ecuador.


Why has Ecuador’s security deteriorated?

Security in Ecuador has worsened since the coronavirus pandemic, which also battered the Andean nation’s economy.

The number of violent deaths rose to 8,008 in 2023, the government has said, nearly double the 2022 figure. The violence crossed into the political arena last year when an anti-corruption presidential candidate was assassinated.

READ: Ecuador TV studio attacked by armed men during live broadcast

The government blames the situation on the growing reach of cocaine trafficking gangs, which have destabilized swathes of South America.

Inside Ecuador’s prisons, the gangs have taken advantage of the state’s weak control to expand their power. Prison violence has become increasingly common, resulting in hundreds of deaths in incidents authorities have blamed on gang battles to control the jails.

Guayaquil, a coastal city that is Ecuador’s largest, is considered the country’s most dangerous, with its ports acting as a hub for drug smuggling.


Noboa, 36, has been touting his “Phoenix Plan” for security, which includes establishing a new intelligence unit, tactical weapons for security forces, new high-security prisons, and reinforced security at ports and airports.

He said it would cost some $800 million, though the United States would provide $200 million in new weapons for Ecuador’s army.

Ecuador is reeling from a fresh wave of violence that has shaken the South American nation

A security official holds a weapon as men lie on the floor during an operation amid a wave of violence around the nation, in Los Rios, Ecuador, in this handout distributed by the Ecuador Ministry of Defense on January 10, 2024. Ministerio Defensa Ecuador/Handout via REUTERS

What caused this week’s flare-up violence?

Police said on Sunday that Adolfo Macias, the leader of the Los Choneros criminal gang, had disappeared from the prison where he was serving a 34-year sentence. Authorities are trying to track him down.

Meanwhile, there were incidents of violence in at least six prisons beginning on Monday. As of Wednesday, more than 100 guards and other staff were still being held hostage by prisoners. In Riobamba, a provincial capital in central Ecuador, 39 inmates escaped from a prison, though some have been recaptured.

Violence spread to the streets on Tuesday, with two police officers killed in Guayas province, where Guayaquil is located.

Seven police officers were also kidnapped around the country, though three have been freed.

READ: Security in Ecuador has come undone as drug cartels exploit the banana industry to ship cocaine

The violence was most dramatically displayed when an armed group burst into a television studio during a live broadcast and held journalists at gunpoint. More than a dozen people in the group were arrested.

Several cities also confirmed explosions on Tuesday, though no injuries were reported.

Noboa, who has vowed not to negotiate with “terrorists,” has said the violence is a reaction to his government’s plans to build a new high-security prison for jailed gang leaders.

Ecuador is reeling from a fresh wave of violence that has shaken the South American nation

A police officer frisks a man after Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency following the disappearance of Adolfo Macias, leader of the Los Choneros criminal gang, from the prison where he was serving a 34-year sentence, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on January 9, 2024. REUTERS/Vicente Gaibor del Pino

What is the government doing to tackle the problem?

Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency – a tool used by his predecessor Guillermo Lasso to little success – on Monday, enabling military patrols, including in prisons, and setting a national nighttime curfew.

In an updated decree published on Tuesday afternoon, Noboa said he recognized an “internal armed conflict” in Ecuador and identified several criminal gangs as terrorist groups, including Los Choneros. The decree ordered the armed forces to neutralize the groups.

READ: Ecuador declares state of emergency after assassination of anti-corruption presidential candidate

Seventy people have been arrested since Monday in response to incidents like the TV station take-over, the police said on Wednesday.

Schools were shut across the country on Wednesday, with classes taking place virtually and many businesses choosing to close for the day.

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Noboa’s coalition, a broad alliance of center-left, center-right, and centrist groups, has a majority in the National Assembly, which Lasso lacked. However, some Ecuadoreans are questioning why the president is not taking harsher measures against gangs.

He plans to hold a security-focused plebiscite later this year, which would include asking the public if the government should undo a ban on the extradition of Ecuadoreans wanted abroad and if seizure of assets from suspected criminals should be allowed.

TAGS: Ecuador, Security, Violence

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