Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa on Monday declared a state of emergency for 60 days amid the chaos following the disappearance of a most-wanted gangster from the prison where he was being held.
Ecuador’s prison agency has earlier revealed that there were several clashes on Monday, between rival gangs at six most overcrowded prisons in the country.
Ecuador’s prisons are said to be ruled by gangs as the state has continuously failed to expand their power. The gang battles have become a very common phenomenon, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
According to the agency, since 2021 more than 400 prisoners have been killed in these fights.
Adolfo Macias, also known as Fito, the leader of the powerful Los Choneros criminal gang, vanished from the prison on Sunday, where he was serving a 34-year sentence.
The news of Fito’s disappearance sparked violent fights inside the prisons. More than 150 guards and other staff were taken hostage by prisoners, and 39 inmates escaped from a prison in Riobamba, though some have been recaptured.
Government spokesman Roberto Izurieta alleged that Fito had been tipped off that he was about to be moved from La Regional jail.
It is assumed that he has escaped the jail just hours before the transfer. Two prison guards have been detained on suspicion of helping Fito.
Within a day, the violence took hold of the streets as well. Five explosions and a few incidents of vandalism were reported across the country.
Seven police officers were kidnapped and taken to unknown places. The authorities are trying to track down the missing prisoners and officers, said a report by Reuters.
At least 10 people including two policemen have been killed since the emergency began.
On Tuesday, an Ecuadorean television station in Guayaquil was invaded by masked gunmen interrupting the live broadcast. Guayaquil is the largest coastal city in Ecuador, known for its dangerous criminal hubs and infamous ports for drug smuggling.
During the assault, the captives were threatened with pump-action shotguns and revolvers pointed at their heads, as reported by AFP News Agency.
Police posted a video of the arrested culprits on social media, saying the perpetrators would be “punished for terrorist acts”.
The current situation would be the first big security task for Noboa, the businessman turned politician who took office in November. He has termed the crisis “an internal armed conflict” and promised to crack down on armed criminals.
“I have just signed a state of emergency decree so that the Armed Forces have all the political and legal support for their actions. The time is over when drug trafficking convicts, hitmen and organized crime dictate to the government what to do,” said Noboa.
The emergency deploys the military onto the streets and into prisons while setting a national nighttime curfew. Previous governments have employed similar tactics in recent years to boost security but without any substantial success.
The “Phoenix Plan” of Noboa cost some $800 million and he has sought weapon supply worth $200 million for the army from the United States.
The government blames the drug cartels, both foreign and native, fighting over control of cocaine routes to the US and Europe, for the ongoing events.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, law and order system in Ecuador has seen a decline, which has also evidently affected the economy.
The toll of deaths related to criminal activities and police actions has reached 8,008 in 2023, nearly double the 2022 figure of over 4,500.