In the last few hours, Ecuador has regained control of all the prisons in the country. The army, heavily armed, entered the prisons and freed more than 150 people abducted inside, including guards and administrative staff. At least one officer died during these operations, which were conducted without any bloodshed. The prisoners are shown in courtyards, sitting in rows and with their hands behind their heads, reminiscent of images shared by President Nayib Bukele in El Salvador to demonstrate the defeat of gangs.
Ecuadorian gangs dedicated to drug trafficking in alliance with Mexican cartels until now controlled the prisons; In fact, from within them, where until recently their main leaders were housed, they manage the organization, as if from a command post. Some incidents suggest that this control over prisons may not be as effective as it is believed. From the Esmeraldas prison, which is located in an area of the same name, completely infested with organized crime, 48 prisoners escaped. Two died during the chase. On Sunday morning, six more people escaped from the Del Litoral prison in Guayaquil, while authorities were believed to have already regained control.
The wave of violence that began eight days earlier began with the escape of two of the country’s most important leaders, José Adolfo Macías Villamar, aka. Fito, Fabricio Colón Pico, leader of Los Choneros and member of Los Lobos, considered the most dangerous criminal in Ecuador. What followed was a series of attacks and assaults with which organized crime tried to subdue the authorities. The matter escalated so much that some masked people attacked the public channel TC Television Live and threatened the journalists with guns and dynamite. The purpose of this action is a mystery. As soon as the police arrived at the scene, dozens of attackers, young people and almost children, surrendered without offering any resistance.
Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa declared internal armed conflict, meaning there is a war going on within the country. A curfew has been imposed from 11 pm to 5 am and the army patrols the streets. Currently, according to official figures, there are more than 1,500 detainees, including 158 accused of “terrorism”. Noboa has ordered that gangs be treated as such, increasing penalties and giving authorities more scope to confront them. In addition, 41 operations have been conducted against these groups, during which five alleged criminals have been killed, and 27 abducted people have been released.
The President of the Republic assured in a statement that operations will continue throughout the national territory “with a clear objective”. “Be tough with those who have intimidated and taken advantage of citizens.” A huge challenge for Noboa is to stop the violent slide that has taken place in the country in the last three years. So far, two other presidents, Lenin Moreno and Guillermo Lasso, have helplessly (or negligently, depending on how you look at it) watched security deteriorate in record time. Last year, the murder rate was 40 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the world. Under leftist Rafael Correa, from 2007 to 2017, it dropped to 5.78, one of the lowest in the region. The exception of Ecuador has disappeared in the blink of an eye.
In a very short time, with the rain of money received from turning the Gulf of Guayaquil into the main cocaine export port in the world, with an exit to the Pacific Ocean, the gangs have achieved worrying infiltration into the main power states. On their payroll are high-ranking judges, prosecutors, police officers, politicians and military personnel. They control ports, neighborhoods, markets. Noboa has to manage all this on a very limited budget. For this reason, he has proposed to increase the VAT from 12 to 15% to overcome the shortage of police and military personnel, but the fact that he does not have a majority in Congress prevents him from negotiating with the rest of the political forces. He does not view the tax increase favorably. The President has also proposed holding a referendum in the last week of February or the first week of March to approve the expansion of punishment for serious crimes such as murder and arms trafficking, and for military security operations.
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