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Ecuador Under Attack: An Internal Armed Conflict

On Tuesday, January 9, 2024, masked gunmen broke onto the set of a public news channel in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Citizens across the country watched the live broadcast of TC Television for 15 minutes as the armed men took over. They could see the crew lying on the floor on-air with what sounded like gunshots and screaming in the background off-camera. It was not clear if people were injured during this. It was one of many violent events that happened on this day across the country.

One of the masked men said, “We are on air, so you know that you cannot mess with the mafia,” during the broadcast attack.

The series of attacks come after two powerful drug gang leaders escaped prison over the weekend. However, authorities have not stated who has been behind these attacks. President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency on Monday the 8th, then later upgraded it to an internal armed conflict. The state of emergency will last 60 days. He appointed 20 drug-trafficking gangs as terrorist groups and authorized the military to “neutralize” them within the confines of international humanitarian law.

During an interview on Wednesday with Radio Canela, Prescient Noboa said, “We are in a state of war and we cannot give in.”

Police stated they were able to arrest all of the armed men from the event, confirming that all the employees and hostages were alive and able to get out. Thirteen people were captured, along with four firearms, two grenades, and some explosive materials. Jorge Rendon, anchor for TC Television, described this takeover as an extremely violent attack.

On Wednesday, January 10, schools and stores remained closed as soldiers began roaming the streets throughout big cities nationwide. There has been no confirmation as to how many attacks there have been since the two gang leaders escaped.

On Sunday, Adolfo Macías (alias Fito), leader of the Los Choneros gang, was discovered missing from his cell. Los Choneros have connections with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel and are considered responsible for the rise in violence over the last year in Ecuador. Macías is suspected of carrying out the killing of presidential contender Fernando Villavicencio last year. He has not been found. The following Tuesday, officials announced that the Los Lobos gang leader Fabricio Colon Pico (alias The Savage) had also escaped his prison cell, along with 38 other prisoners. Colon Pico had been arrested on January 5 after his attempted plan to assassinate Diana Salazar, state prosecutor.  

Other attacks that have occurred include the abduction of four police officers, about 125 prison personnel being held hostage, car bombs and explosions, and threats made to the government. As of Wednesday, about 330 people have been arrested in connection to acts of terrorism, including the gunmen who broke into the TC Television set. 

Last year was the most violent year in the history of Ecuador, where around 8,000 people were killed in violent deaths. The murder rate has quadrupled within the last five years. Many have urged the president to approach this situation like El Salvador’s president, Nayub Bukele. President Bukele suspended constitutional rights two years ago, in an attempt to wage an all-out war on violent gangs. It has successfully declined criminal violence and has gained popularity in Latin America. Some say that Ecuador’s neglect of poverty has led many young people to join gangs, seeing no other options for themselves reluctantly. It is unclear how President Noboa will proceed with the increasing crime rate.

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