Ecuador’s President, Daniel Noboa, declared war on armed criminal gangs following a recent attack on the state-owned television network TC Televisión and the escape of mob boss Fito.
Causes for the Declaration
The emergency follows the disappearance of notorious gangster Adolfo Macías Villamar, also known as Fito, from his cell. Fito is the boss of the Choneros gang, a ruthless prison gang with ties in all forms of crime. Their main affiliations include drug trafficking, extortion, and robbery. However, It’s uncertain if the TV studio attack in Guayaquil is linked to Fito’s escape from a local prison.
The TV Station Attack
On Tuesday January 9th, masked gunmen stormed TC, a public television channel, during a live broadcast. They forced staff onto the floor at gunpoint. Following the studio attack, police arrested 13 individuals. Two TC employees were injured during the incident. Since a 60-day emergency was declared in Ecuador on Monday, at least 10 deaths have occurred.
During the TV station assault, one gunman threatened a captive with a shotgun. Another captive faced a revolver threat. A woman pleaded, “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot,” during the attack, as per AFP news agency reports. A TC employee messaged AFP, “They came in to kill us. The criminals are on air.” The attack left one cameraman shot in the leg and another with a broken arm, said TC’s deputy news director.
In an interview from Reuters, Jorge Rendon, a TC producer, described how the assailants tried to break into the bullet-proofed studio. The police posted videos of the arrested suspects and their weapons. They labeled the act as terrorism. It should be noted those accused of invading TC are now detained. A police handout showed them handcuffed on the floor in Guayaquil.
Ecuador’s War on Armed Gangs
President Noboa declared on Tuesday an “internal armed conflict” in Ecuador. He’s mobilizing armed forces against organized crime and terrorism. Peru’s government has deployed police to the border. This is to prevent instability from spreading from Ecuador. On a similar note, the US condemns Ecuador’s recent attacks. They’re closely coordinating with President Noboa, offering assistance if and when necessary.
Ecuador, a major exporter of bananas, oil, coffee, cocoa, shrimps, and fish, faces increased violence linked to drug cartels. Drug cartels battle over cocaine routes to the US and Europe. Furthermore, this trade war leads to violence in and out of prisons.
President Noboa’s emergency declaration follows jail riots, escapes, and violence attributed to criminal gangs. His decree lists the Choneros and 21 other gangs. The state of emergency includes a nightly curfew. Security forces strive to restore order in six jails, following riots linked to Fito’s escape.
Recent armed criminal gang attacks in Guayaquil led to eight deaths and three injuries. Two officers were killed in Nobol. In Riobamba, about 40 inmates, including a drug lord, escaped from prison.Seven police officers were kidnapped. A video shows them with a gun pointed at them, reading a statement to President Noboa.
Response to the Declaration of War
The statement read, “You declared war, you will get war.” It declared police, civilians, and soldiers as war spoils. Quito’s government compound was evacuated due to security concerns. In addition, Quito residents describe the city as chaotic since the Guayaquil TV station attack. Mario Urena, a local, notes increased nervousness and traffic in the city. He observes people leaving work early amid widespread alarm.
Residents in Cuenca express shock at the TV station’s seizure. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Francisco Rosas. Rosas questions Ecuador’s security situation. He fears for public places like restaurants and shops after the TV station incident.
Military officers guarded a metro station in Quito on January 9, 2024. President Noboa had declared a state of emergency and curfew.
The Choneros, Fito and President Noboa
Ecuador’s prisons have long been battlegrounds for rival gang feuds. As a result, these conflicts often result in inmate massacres.
Los Choneros, as mentioned above are a dominant prison gang, with implications in many deadly riots and fights in Ecuadorian jails. Fito’s escape, just before a planned transfer, undermines prison security. Two guards are detained, suspected of aiding his escape.
Decenas de policías y militares allanaron la casa de Adolfo Macías Villamar, alias #Fito este sábado 13 de enero del 2024. La vivienda, ubicada en el barrio San Agustín, en #Manta pic.twitter.com/EL7rRjrP0k
— @InfoRio (@InfoRioEc) January 13, 2024
Furthermore, Fito’s escape also challenges President Noboa’s government, inaugurated last November after a tainted election. In addition, the election was marred by the assassination of presidential candidate and journalist Fernando Villavicencio. Villavicencio, who had received death threats from Fito, was killed after a campaign rally in Quito.