regular-article-logo Tuesday, 18 June 2024

Ecuador plunges into crisis, gang leader flees prison as riots break out in jails

Police say they have arrested 13 people after the episode, recovering 'weapons, explosives and other evidence'

Annie Correal, Genevieve Glatsky, Jose Maria Leon Cabrera Bogota, Colombia Published 11.01.24, 04:58 AM
Soldiers and police officers on guard outside the presidential palace inQuito, Ecuador, on Wednesday.

Soldiers and police officers on guard outside the presidential palace inQuito, Ecuador, on Wednesday. Twitter

Gunmen wearing masks stormed a television station Tuesday in Ecuador’s largest city, taking anchors and staff hostage and exchanging gunfire with police as cameras rolled before the intruders were subdued and arrested.

The televised violence, captured live, erupted in the coastal city of Guayaquil as the South American country descended into chaos this week, with a powerful gang leader disappearing from prison, uprisings breaking out in several prisons and inmates kidnapping and threatening guards.


One of the attackers who stormed the TV station could be heard on-air asking to be wired up with a microphone, saying he intended to send a message about the consequences of “messing with the mafias”. Before he could, the police intervened. The armed men also forced the anchors and other staff being held hostage to appear in a video asking the president not to interfere.

The police said on social media that they had arrested 13 people after the episode, recovering “weapons, explosives and other evidence.” The hostages were also released safely, the post said.

By Tuesday afternoon, at least eight people had died and two others had been injured in violent episodes in Guayaquil, according to the city’s mayor, Aquiles Álvarez, who held a news conference alongside the chief of police. Authorities also said five hospitals had been overtaken.

Explosions, burning vehicles, looting and gunfire were also reported across the country, and authorities announced that a second major gang leader and other inmates had escaped from another prison.

Ecuador’s President, Daniel Noboa, declared an internal armed conflict on Tuesday and ordered the armed forces to “neutralise” two dozen gangs, which he described as “terrorist organisations”, according to a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Shops, schools, government offices and buildings were shut down. Workers were sent home, and streets in Quito, the capital, and Guayaquil were jammed with traffic.

“It was chaotic, as you can imagine,” said Carolina Valencia, who was visiting family in Guayaquil from New York. “There was traffic everywhere because people just wanted to get home. The buses weren’t fully operating, so people were jumping on the pickup trucks that were open in the back.”

“There was a lot of desperation,” she added. “Since this gangster disappeared, everyone has been in constant fear.”

Noboa, who has prioritised restoring security to a country awash in gang violence fuelled by a flourishing drug trade, had earlier declared a state of emergency and deployed more than 3,000 police and military officers to search for the escaped gang leader, Adolfo Macías.

The 60-day declaration imposes a nationwide overnight curfew and allows the military to patrol streets and take control of the prisons.

“The time is over when drug-trafficking convicts, hit men and organised crime dictate to the government what to do,” Noboa said in a video announcing the state of emergency on Monday.

Macías, who is the head of the gang Los Choneros and is better known as “Fito”, disappeared on Sunday from an overcrowded prison in Guayaquil.

New York Times News Service

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