Ecuador, positioned along the cocaine trade route linking Colombia and Peru, is facing a severe crisis as gangs have gone on a rampage.
The ongoing situation has led to a death toll of at least 10, prompting Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa to declare a state of ‘internal armed conflict,’ as reported by AFP.
Noboa authorised military operations on Tuesday targeting the country’s formidable criminal groups after hooded gunmen took control of a television studio and gang members issued threats against security forces and civilians.
Affiliated with influential Mexican and Colombian cartels, notably Los Choneros, gangs have unleashed violence, staging attacks on television studios, triggering explosions in multiple cities, and abducting police officers.
Following the escape of Jose Adolfo Macias, alias ‘Fito,’ leader of Ecuador’s largest gang, Los Choneros, President Noboa declared a state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew on Monday.
Subsequently, Ecuadorian gangs, aligned with Mexican and Colombian cartels, instigated a wave of violence, setting off explosions in various cities and holding several police officers hostage.
On Tuesday, these gang members stormed a studio at TC television in the port city of Guayaquil, brandishing guns. Shots were fired during a live TC broadcast, with a woman’s voice pleading: ‘Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot.’
Thirteen people were arrested after police entered the studio.
WHY IS ECUADOR FACING VIOLENCE
- Ecuador’s strategic location on the cocaine trade route between Colombia and Peru makes it a prime target for drug trafficking organisations.
- Drug-related violence has been escalating in Ecuador for years, with the murder rate quadrupling from 2018 to 2022, reaching a peak last year with over 7,800 homicides.
- Rival gangs associated with Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for control over drug trafficking routes and territories within Ecuador, seeking to expand their influence and dominance.
- The nation’s struggling economy, coupled with high levels of poverty and inequality, has provided fertile ground for gang recruitment.
- An ineffective prison system enabling high-profile criminals to escape and unrest within Ecuador’s penitentiaries have also significantly contributed to the surge in violence.”
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