The leader of Ecuador’s biggest and most violent gang, Los Choneros, Adolfo Macias, also known as Fito, vanished from his cell on Sunday. On Monday, prosecutors filed charges against prison guards after authorities deemed it a “prisoner’s escape.”
Macías was convicted of drug trafficking, murder, and organized crime. He was serving a 34-year sentence in La Regional prison of the port of Guayaquil, and he was scheduled on Sunday to be transferred to a maximum security facility in the same city.
Yesterday, a group of masked gunmen stormed into the middle of a public TV station’s live transmission and demanded employees be brought to the set and told to lie down. Terrifying screams could be heard followed by the sound of gunshots.
Ecuadorean Armed Forces)
A woman could be heard pleading, “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot,” while a person could be heard screaming in horrendous pain. “Please, they came in to kill us,” a TC employee said in a WhatsApp message. “God don’t let this happen. The criminals are on air.” Fortunately, no one was killed.
Why has Ecuador declared a state of emergency?
President Daniel Noboa announced that he decided to decree a national state of emergency, a measure that lets authorities suspend people’s rights and mobilize the military in places like prisons.
It came after Ecuadorean officials on Tuesday announced that another gang leader, Fabricio Colón Pico of the Los Lobos group, had escaped from a prison in the town of Riobamba. Colón Pico was captured on Friday as part of a kidnapping investigation and has also been accused of trying to murder one of the nation’s lead prosecutors.
Other attacks include an explosion near the house of the president of the National Justice Court and the Monday night kidnappings of four police officers. Police said one officer was abducted in the capital, Quito, and three in Quevedo city.
Authorities say Los Choneros, one of the Ecuadorian gangs considered responsible for a spike in violence mostly tied to drug trafficking, has links with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.
TC TELEVISION/AFP via Getty Imag)
Los Choneros is one of the Ecuadorian gangs authorities consider responsible for a spike in violence that reached a new level last year with the assassination of the presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. The gang has links with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, according to authorities.
The politician had said the criminal group led by “Fito” threatened him, but so far authorities haven’t directly accused Macías or his group of being behind Villavicencio’s murder.
EcuadorÂ´s National Police/AFP vi)
Days after Villavicencio’s killing, Macías was moved out of La Regional to the maximum security prison in the same large complex of detention facilities in Guayaquil, but he was returned to the same lighter security prison within less than a month without any explanation. In February 2013, “Fito” fled from a maximum security facility, but he was recaptured a few weeks later.
What is causing the crime?
Los Choneros and other similar groups linked to Mexican and Colombian cartels are fighting over drug trafficking routes and control of territory, including from within detention facilities, where at least 400 inmates have died since 2021, according to authorities.
Experts and authorities have acknowledged that gang members practically rule from inside the prisons, and Macías is believed to have kept controlling his group from within the detention facility.
AFP via Getty Images)
President Noboa, an heir to a fortune built on the banana trade, took over in November saying his government’s main objective is to reduce violence.
No one was killed in Tuesday’s attack and authorities say the 13 attackers were arrested and would be charged with terrorism. President Daniel Noboa, who came into power in November with a promise to bring peace to the South American country, issued a decree saying the violence-plagued country had entered an “internal armed conflict,” in what some analysts see as a watershed moment for Ecuador.
AFP via Getty Images)
Late Tuesday, Noboa met with his security Cabinet and, afterward, the head of the Armed Forces Joint Command said the attacks were the gangs’ reactions to the government’s moves against them. “They have unleashed a wave of violence to frighten the population,” Adm. Jaime Vela told journalists, describing the attacks as “unprecedented” in Ecuador’s history.
Will storming a television set be a ‘turning point’?
The South American country had been rocked by attacks since Monday night, but the assault on the newscast was seen in real time in thousands of homes across the country.
“This is a turning point,” said Will Freeman, a political analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, adding that while gangs in Ecuador assassinated presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio and set off car bombs in front of government buildings, Tuesday’s events marked a new peak in violence.
“Depending on how the government responds, it will set the precedent for these kinds of incidents to continue, or it will use this as a catalyst and make some very necessary structural reforms so that the state can start to win its war against crime,” Freeman said.