Explaining the Conflict Between Ecuador’s Government and Narco Gangs Amid Violence
Ecuador is in crisis after Los Choneros’ infamous gang leader, Adolfo “Fito” Macías, escaped from a Guayaquil prison on Sunday. Since then, the country has seen a hostage incident on live television, police kidnappings, and at least eight deaths. Amid the nationwide violence, President Daniel Noboa has issued a 60-day state of emergency.
According to the New York Times, gangs may currently control one-fourth of Ecuador’s prison system. As some Ecuadorian narcos reportedly run operations from prison, several of the country’s judges and security officers are under fire for corruption. Moreover, presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, who targeted narco networks, was mysteriously assassinated last year. Six hitmen were allegedly hired to carry out the murder, with some outlets linking the order to drug cartels.
As per CNN, Macías’ escape last week after 13 years in prison triggered the country’s current crisis. Macías is the leader of Ecuadorian narco gang Los Choneros, with a fierce network behind bars. Involved in crimes like drug trafficking and extortion, the gang may even have links to the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel.
Since Sunday, chaos continues to erupt throughout the country — here is everything to know so far.
13 gunmen stormed a news station in Guayaquil, Ecuador and held reporters hostage on live television
As per BBC, President Noboa issued a state of emergency on Monday, following Macías escape from prison. The 60-day order means that Ecuador is currently under a tight curfew, with military cracking down on street activity. At least six other incidents occurred in other prisons by Sunday.
However, by Tuesday, events worsened. According to Al Jazeera, authorities stated on Tuesday that a breakout of violence in Guayaquil led to eight deaths and three injuries. They also said that two police officers were “viciously murdered by armed criminals” in the town of Nobol. Moreover, as per the news outlet, gangs kidnapped other officers. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports nationwide explosions, looting, and gun violence.
Also on Tuesday, 13 armed attackers stormed Guayaquil’s TC Television studio during a live broadcast. The gunmen, who wore masks, threatened reporters, ordering them to lie down on the floor. As the gunmen pointed their guns to staff, AP News reports that one stated: “We are on air, so you know that you cannot play with the mafia.”
As per New York Times, attackers also ordered on-air reporters to warn the president against intervening.
While no one died in the television studio attack, one affected reporter named Alina Manrique told AP News she is “still in shock.”
“They aimed the gun at my head,” she explained. “I thought about my entire life, about my two children.” Later, she described her intent to leave her home country. “Everything has collapsed… All I know is that it’s time to leave this country and go very far away.”
Authorities now say that they have arrested the 13 on-air attackers on terrorism charges.
President Noboa wrote in response to the violence: ‘We won’t permit terrorist groups to destroy the country’s peace’
Amid Tuesday’s unprecedented violence, President Noboa signed an executive decree to designate 22 of Ecuador’s gangs as “terrorist organizations.” He also wrote on X that he organized the Armed Forces of Ecuador to “executive military operations to neutralize these groups.”
Even more, the decree states the government’s intent to “guarantee the sovereignty and territorial integrity against transnational organized crime” and “terrorist organizations.” As President Noboa wrote, these proclaimed terrorist groups include gangs like [Los] Choneros, Cuartel de las Feas, ChoneKiller and the Tiguerones.
In short, through this decree, the current conflict in Ecuador is essentially brewing between the country’s government — and its powerful narco gangs.
The president also wrote on X: “We won’t permit terrorist groups to destroy the country’s peace.”
According to AP News, Ecuador’s government stated that at least 30 attacks have taken place since Macías Sunday escape from prison.
These attacks include a frightening incident at Guayaquil University’s campus on Tuesday. As per ABC, gang members entered the college and allegedly attempted to take students hostage. While authorities reportedly neutralized the attack, the university has since suspended its classes.
In response to Ecuador’s crisis, authorities are adamant about not negotiating with the cartels. According to Aristegui Noticias, the leader of Ecuador’s Joint Command of Armed Forces, Jaime Vela, said in an official statement: “Every terrorist group identified in the decree just became a military objective.”
“We are not going to retreat or negotiate,” Vela asserted. “Goodness, justice, and order cannot ask for permission or put their head down [in the face of] terrorists.”
Explaining that the attackers have “committed bloody, unprecedented acts,” he said their “attempt will fail.”
“The present and future of our country is in danger,” he added.
While deploying 3,000 police officers and armed forces to restore peace to Ecuador, President Noboa stated on Monday: “The time is over when drug-trafficking convicts, hit men and organized crime dictate to the government what to do.”