Ecuador government struggling with a rise in gang violence, prison escapes, and an attack on a live television broadcast. President Daniel Noboa’s declaration of a state of emergency, addressing the situation as an internal armed conflict.
The attack on TC Television’s live studio in Guayaquil is as a manifestation of the violence. Masked gunmen, armed with shotguns and handguns, stormed the studio during a broadcast, forcing staff to the floor and terrorizing viewers who saw the events happen in real-time.
The assailants issued threats, brandished explosives, and even pointed firearms at hostages. The televised attack, in Ecuador’s history, lasted around 15 minutes before police intervention led to the arrest of 13 attackers. The hostages, including TC Television staff, were unharmed.
President Noboa’s response to the violence was to declare a 60-day state of emergency, granting the government powers to suspend rights and mobilize the military.
The emergency was triggered by the disappearance of Adolfo Macías Villamar, alias Fito, a gang leader, from his prison cell.
Fito’s escape set off a chain reaction of violence, with criminal gangs emboldened to challenge the state’s authority.
President Noboa announced the mobilization of the armed forces for military operations to neutralize transnational organized crime, terrorist organizations, and belligerent non-state actors.
Ecuador’s descent into chaos has been linked to the power struggles among drug cartels, both domestic and foreign, vying for control of cocaine routes to the United States and Europe.
The Choneros gang, named after the town of Chone in Manabi Province, has been in the violent feuds that have plagued the country’s prisons.
The Choneros, along with 21 other gangs, were mentioned in President Noboa’s emergency decree. The government’s assertion that these gangs are involved in transnational organized crime shows the international dimensions of Ecuador’s security challenges.
The involvement of Mexican drug cartels, such as the Sinaloa cartel, complicates the situation, turning Ecuador into a battleground for control over lucrative drug trafficking routes.
Fito, a powerful figure within the Choneros gang, had been in a 36-year sentence for drug trafficking, murder, and organized crime. His disappearance exposed vulnerabilities within the prison system.
Another gang leader, Fabricio Colón Pico of the Los Lobos group, also managed to break free from a prison in Riobamba. Colón Pico, implicated in a kidnapping investigation and attempted murder of a lead prosecutor.
The assailant’s attempt to hijack the studio, force a narrative, and create a spectacle revealed a disturbing level of audacity.
The United States, in particular, has denounced the brazen attacks and pledged assistance to President Noboa’s government. Ecuador’s neighbors, including Peru, have increased security along their borders.
The crisis has seen the kidnapping of at least seven police officers by criminal elements. Disturbing videos circulated on social media depict kidnapped officers being forced to read statements, declaring a war against the government.
Explosions in various cities, including Esmeraldas and Los Rios, have increased the fear. The motives behind these explosions remain unclear, but they contribute to create fear.
The targeting of institutions, such as the National Justice Court president’s house, concerns about the criminal influence and their ability to strike at the heart of the state.