Ecuador | State of emergency after the escape of the leader of the main gang, four police officers kidnapped

(Quito) Four police officers were kidnapped in Ecuador in the midst of a state of emergency, established by President Daniel Noboa after the escape of the leader of the country’s main criminal gang, followed by uprisings in prisons.

Mr. Noboa on Monday declared a state of emergency for 60 days throughout the country, including in prisons, with a curfew between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. local time (4 a.m. and 5 a.m. local time). ‘East).

“Three police officers who were on duty” were then kidnapped in Machala (South-West), the police announced during the night from Monday to Tuesday on the social network X (formerly Twitter). A fourth police officer was kidnapped in Quito by three individuals aboard “a vehicle with tinted windows and no plates”.

The imposition of the state of emergency came the day after the escape of Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito”, 44, leader of the “Choneros” – a gang of around 8,000 men according to experts, which became the main player in the flourishing drug trade in Ecuador.

He fled on Sunday from a prison in Guayaquil (southwest) 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.

“I have just signed the decree on the state of emergency so that the armed forces have all the political and legal support in their actions,” Mr. Noboa said on Monday in a video broadcast by the presidency.

The army is thus authorized for 60 days to maintain order in the streets and prisons of the country.

The prosecution opened an investigation against two prison officials “who allegedly participated in the escape” of “Fito”.

The security forces “are hard at work to find this extremely dangerous individual” who allegedly fled on Sunday “a few hours” before a check in the prison, government communications secretary Roberto Izurieta said on Monday, referring to “infiltrations”. “.

Sequestered guards

Roberto Izurieta deplored that “the level of infiltration” of criminal groups within the state “is very high” and described the Ecuadorian prison system as a “failure”.

“The search (for Fito) continues (…) He will be found, he must be found,” he said, calling him “a criminal with extremely dangerous characteristics, whose activities have characteristics of terrorism.”

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

After the state of emergency was declared, police also reported violence in the gang-controlled province of Esmeraldas (Northwest). An explosive device was thrown near a police station and two vehicles were set on fire, without causing any casualties.

Police and soldiers entered heavily armed several prisons, particularly those where guards were sequestered.

Images posted on social media, which could not be verified, showed guards being held at knifepoint by hooded men, pleading with the government to “act with caution” and “not send troops into prisons.”

Videos released by the military later showed detainees lying in prison courtyards with their hands on their heads. The prison administration (SNAI) indicated that no one was injured following these “incidents”.

“Take back control”

“We have taken measures that will allow us to regain control” of the prisons, underlined President Noboa.

The name “Fito” has made headlines in recent months following the assassination in early August of one of the main candidates in the presidential election. The victim, a former journalist and parliamentarian, had reported death threats from the leader of the Choneros shortly before his execution.

Sporting a large beard, “Fito”, known to be very charismatic, studied law in prison until obtaining his lawyer’s degree. A song in his glory by a Mexican group, with a video clip and images filmed in his cell, was recently broadcast on social networks.

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

Prisons are experiencing recurring massacres between rival gangs, at least a dozen since February 2021 which have left more than 460 inmates dead.

Mr. Noboa was elected in the fall of 2023 on the promise of curbing insecurity in the country and regaining control of prisons.


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