Ecuador | Armed men burst into public TV set live

(Quito) Latest and spectacular episode of an unprecedented security crisis in Ecuador, armed men burst into the set of a public television station in Guayaquil (southwest) on Tuesday afternoon, briefly taking journalists and others hostage chain employees.

“Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot!” “, shouts a woman amid the gunfire, while the attackers, equipped with pistols, shotguns and grenades, hit and force the terrified people to the ground.

Hooded, under hoods or in caps with their faces exposed, several film themselves and make with the fingers of both hands the usual signs of recognition of the criminal gangs linked to drug trafficking which are causing a reign of terror in Ecuador.

“My God protect us”

“They came in to kill us, my God protect us,” one of the captive journalists sent to an AFP correspondent in a WhatsApp message.

Amid the gunfire, the broadcast of these surreal images continued live for several minutes, despite the lights on the set going out and the camera freezing. Until apparently the police intervened, shouting “Police!” Police ! “.

With this new resounding incident, the outcome of which is still unknown, culminates a security crisis that nothing seems to be able to stem, after three days marked by the escape of a dangerous gang leader, cascading mutinies in the prisons, the proclamation of the state of emergency and the kidnapping of police officers in particular.

“These are extremely difficult days”, the executive having taken “the important decision to fight head-on against these terrorist threats”, commented Tuesday the communications secretary of the presidency, Roberto Izurieta.

The crisis began on Sunday with the spectacular escape of Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito”, 44 years old, the leader of the “Choneros”. A gang of around 8,000 men, according to experts, has become the main player in Ecuador’s thriving drug trade.

Often described as public enemy number 1, suspected of being involved in the resounding assassination of one of the main presidential candidates in August 2022, the man vanished from a high security establishment in the vast complex in Guayaquil where he had been serving a 34-year prison sentence since 2011 for organized crime, drug trafficking and murder. He had already escaped from a high security prison in 2013 and was recaptured three months later.

His escape was followed by several mutinies and hostage-taking of guards in various prisons, all relayed by frightening videos broadcast on social networks showing the captives threatened by the knives of masked inmates.

” Declaration of war ”

The youngest president in Ecuador’s history, President Noboa, 36, declared a state of emergency for 60 days across Ecuador on Monday. The army is thus authorized to maintain order in the streets (with a nighttime curfew) and prisons.

With clearly little effect so far: seven police officers were kidnapped during the night from Monday to Tuesday. Explosions were also reported in an attack on a police station, the home of the President of the National Court and vehicles were set on fire. The local press spoke of a “night of terror” and a “failed state”.


Adolfo Macias, aka Fito, leader of the criminal gang Los Choneros, in August 2023

A video posted on social networks shows three of the kidnapped police officers forced, under threat of handguns, to read a message addressed to the head of state: “You have declared war, you are going to have war (…) . You have declared a state of emergency, we declare the police, civilians and military spoils of war.”

New humiliation on Tuesday, the authorities announced the escape of another drug trafficker, Fabricio Colon Pico, one of the leaders of Los Lobos, a criminal gang rivaling the Choneros. He was arrested Friday for the offense of kidnapping and his alleged responsibility in a plot to assassinate the attorney general.

The government deplored a “very high level of infiltration” of criminal groups within the state and described the Ecuadorian prison system as a “failure”.

“We will not negotiate with terrorists and we will not stop until we have returned peace to all Ecuadorians,” President Noboa insisted on Monday.

In underwear

Starting on Sunday, police officers and soldiers entered several prisons, heavily armed, including where guards were sequestered.

Security forces released dramatic images of these interventions, showing hundreds of detainees in their underwear, hands on their heads and lying unceremoniously on the ground. The prison administration (SNAI) affirmed that no one was injured following these “incidents”.

These images are in every way reminiscent of the communication from Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, credited with having re-established, thanks to his “war” against gangs, security in his country, at the cost, however, of a restriction of the rights of prisoners according to the organizations human rights.

Once a safe haven, Ecuador has become a logistics center for shipping cocaine to the United States and Europe. The country is today ravaged by the violence of gangs and drug traffickers. The number of homicides increased by almost 800% between 2018 and 2023, from 6 to 46 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The prisons, overcrowded and with more than 31,000 inmates, are experiencing recurring massacres between rival gangs, at least twelve since February 2021 which have left more than 460 inmates dead.


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