After a provocation by the criminal gangs on live TV, the Ecuadorian government takes tough action against the gangs. 329 suspects were arrested in operations across the country. Firearms, ammunition, explosives, incendiary devices, boats and vehicles were also seized, said Chief of General Staff Jaime Vela. Accordingly, soldiers and police officers also freed 41 hostages from gang violence. Five suspected gang members were killed by security forces.
In an unprecedented show of force, gunmen broke into the premises of the state television station TC Televisión in the port city of Guayaquil during a live broadcast and took several journalists and employees hostage. Gunshots and people screaming could be heard in the recordings.
"All of these groups are now military targets"
President Daniel Noboa issued a decree declaring 22 criminal groups as terrorist organizations and non-state war parties that must be eliminated. "All of these groups are now military targets," said military chief Vela. Ecuador is in an internal armed conflict in the fight against organized crime, the decree continued.
The head of state warned officials against collaborating with the crime syndicates. "We are in a state of war and must not surrender to the terrorist groups," Noboa said in a radio interview. Judges, police officers and soldiers who work with the gangs will be tried for terrorism.
Judges and police officers also involved
According to security experts, the gangs have already infiltrated large parts of the state and society. Late last year, more than two dozen suspects, including judges, prosecutors, police and corrections officers, were arrested in nationwide crackdowns on organized crime. “The investigation shows how drug trafficking penetrated state institutions,” said Attorney General Diana Salazar at the time.
Recently, the violence in Ecuador continued to escalate. Across the country, members of criminal gangs carried out explosive attacks, set vehicles on fire and attacked security forces. According to police, at least eight people were killed in fighting in Guayaquil. Many businessmen barricaded their shops for fear of looting. The Ministry of Education announced that all schools in the country will remain closed until the end of the week.
Highest murder rate in Ecuador's history
The security situation in Ecuador had recently deteriorated dramatically. The murder rate of around 46.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year was the highest in the history of the once peaceful Andean country and one of the highest in Latin America. Multiple gangs with ties to powerful Mexican cartels are fighting for control of drug trafficking routes. Ecuador is an important transit country for cocaine from South America that is smuggled to the United States and Europe.