Violence these days has engulfed Ecuador, a country that until five years ago was among the safest in the region. President Daniel Noboa, son of the country’s richest businessman, aged 36 and after only 50 days in office, is facing an unprecedented crisis. With prisons as a center of operations, organized crime has killed police and prison officials over the past 72 hours and attempted to attack hospitals and police stations. Noboa deployed the army to the streets and asked them to shoot down the criminals, whom he considers terrorists. “We are at war,” the president said.
Scenes of violence occur throughout the country, but are especially concentrated in Guayaquil, the most dangerous city. Its citizens protect themselves from street shootings and looting that take place in malls and street-level stores. Dressed as police officers, criminals set up roadblocks and murder or kidnap car occupants. The country saw 13 hooded young people attack live the set of a public media outlet, TC Televisión, and for half an hour, during which the transmission did not stop, they threatened journalists with guns, grenades and what looked like dynamite. Barbarism has transformed into reality show.
Ecuadorian gangs, associated with the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), both Mexican, have infiltrated the state by buying police chiefs, generals, judges and prosecutors. Its main leaders, from prisons transformed into luxurious suites with bars and swimming pools, control the drug routes that lead to the United States and the main ports and borders. They have officials who occupy key positions and others who do not live with the risk of being assassinated. One way or another, they end up in control.
So far, Noboa has not shown signs of strong leadership. His role remained secondary, leaving the limelight during press conferences to senior army officials. His biggest move was declaring “an internal armed conflict” and declaring a curfew, something other presidents have also instituted in the past. In an interview with Radio Canela this Wednesday, he highlighted that the state is facing “terrorist groups” made up of more than 20,000 people. “We are not going to give in, we are not going to let society die slowly,” he added.
During the election campaign, he assured that he had a plan to regain control of the prisons, which included detaining the most dangerous prisoners on barges on the high seas 120 kilometers from the coast. At present, the plan has not been executed and no further details are known about it. José Adolfo Macías Villamar, alias Fito, considered Ecuador’s most dangerous criminal, leader of the gang known as Los Choneros, and Los Lobos member Fabricio Colón Pico to escape from prison. The prison doors were thrown wide open to them, without the prison directors lifting a finger. The former are associated with drug traffickers from Sinaloa and the latter with those from Jalisco. The escapes of these two important leaders gave rise to a wave of clashes in the streets.
Return 1,500 Colombian prisoners
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The president says he is ready to pardon the main leaders of these organizations so that they can directly confront the deployed soldiers. “They don’t dare,” he believes. He claims that in his crosshairs are officials paid by crime, who will also be considered terrorists, with whom they would risk a prison sentence of between 10 and 13 years. For example, a judge ordered Fito’s release six times, for no reason. Noboa inherited from the previous president, Guillermo Lasso, an immense debt which binds him hand and foot linked to the deployment of a larger-scale operation. Of course, he claims to have the support of Israel and the United States. With that also of the Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, to whom he did not respond with too much courtesy. He proposed the return of the 1,500 Colombian prisoners serving sentences in Ecuadorian prisons, the vast majority for drug trafficking. If he refuses to welcome them, he says he will release them at the border.
Ecuadorians are witnessing terrifying scenes these days. In a video posted on Instagram, we see three hooded men asking the president to start a dialogue with the organized gangs. At his feet, controlled, nine prison guards, face down and hands behind their heads. “(If these conversations do not take place) we will kill all the officials, inside and outside the prisons,” says one of the criminals. He then grabs one of the nine at random and hangs him with a rope suspended from the ceiling and attached to an iron door. As the man is dying, another official stands up and speaks to the camera: “Mr. President, do not allow this massacre to continue in our country. » The hanged man’s corpse swings in the background like a pendulum.
Experts fear that the fight against criminal structures will take an authoritarian drift, as happened in El Salvador. “We are faced with criminals who use terrorist tactics, but that does not mean that they are terrorist groups,” recognizes Luis Carlos Córdova, an analyst specializing in security. Lasso already took terrorism as an enemy in April of the previous year, a measure which, according to the expert, “can be described as desperate and which can get out of control.” According to him, this declaration of internal conflict can lead to the commission of false positives, a term invented in Colombia to designate the assassinations of innocent people presented as criminals.
For Córdova, the fact that drug traffickers have infiltrated the state, that they have blended in, makes the presence of the army unnecessary. It is known that at least one general, a handful of colonels and 13 officers worked for Los Lobos. “It is perhaps the criminal structures that end up protecting the security plan itself, thus leading to the birth of an authoritarian state, of a regime of terror,” he concludes.
Meanwhile, Ecuador remains mired in chaos. This is a challenge for the state of a greater proportion than that faced by other countries such as Colombia and Mexico. Prisons remain in the hands of gangs, who control the main sources of power, including those of politics, as evidenced by the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. The decay of institutions is ongoing and threatens to establish a narco-state in a country that, until recently, seemed immune to the tribulations of its neighbors. The nation faces a challenge of biblical proportions.
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