The assault by a group of hooded men on an Ecuadorian television channel while it was broadcasting the mid-afternoon newscast live burst into the lives of Ecuadorians on Tuesday with an unprecedented attack that evidenced a new leap in the criminal spiral in the country. who has been living for three years immersed in violence, insecurity and a record of homicides year after year.
The day had already started with a sequence of 30 violent acts in various parts of the country, with kidnapped police officers, prison riots, vehicle explosions and preceded by the alleged escape from prison of the leaders of criminal groups.
But never before had the assault of several people who targeted and subdued the presenters and workers in the channel’s central studio with two long weapons, two short weapons, a machine gun and industrial and military type explosives been seen live before thousands of viewers. as later confirmed by a police officer in Guayaquil, the city where the media outlet is located.
The incident was neutralized by the police with a balance of 13 arrested. It has not been officially confirmed that there were any injuries.
One day before, the Ecuadorian president, Daniel Noboa, had declared its first state of emergency and night curfew. It was his response to the alleged escape from prison of Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito, the leader of a local criminal gang to which authorities attribute links to the Mexican Sinaloa cartel who was serving a 36-year prison sentence for murder. drug trafficking and other crimes.
AP explains how Ecuador got into this situation:
When did Ecuador become a violent country?
The violence began to have a public impact in February 2021 with a massacre inside the most violent prison in the country, the so-called Penitenciaria del Litoral, in Guayaquil, considered the most dangerous city in the territory.
The bloody confrontation in that prison left at least 79 inmates murdered and was the first in a series of violent clashes between inmates from rival gangs.
According to authorities, the disputes within the prisons originated with the death in December 2020 of a drug trafficking boss leader of the Los Choneros gang, Jorge Luis Zambrano, alias “Rasquina”, linked to international drug trafficking. His disappearance led to internal division between local groups that sought to capture his power.
In September of the same year, the worst prison massacre occurred in which 119 inmates were murdered in different penitentiary centers, some of them decapitated. In total, some 18 violent clashes inside prisons have left more than 450 prisoners dead in the last three years.
Violence in prisons, which authorities claim have become control centers for organized crime, permeated to the streets and in Ecuador other crimes against citizens such as kidnappings, murders, robberies, extortions and more spilled over, which have led to the country to be one of the most violent in the region.
The year 2023 ended as the most violent in the history of Ecuador, with more than 7,600 murders, well above the 4,600 with which 2022 ended, which in turn doubled the 2,100 homicides in 2021.
What is the government doing in response?
The Ecuadorian president, Daniel Noboa, who took office a month and a half ago, promised in the campaign to eradicate violence with his Fenix plan, a security strategy of which no details have been revealed and which, so far, has not stopped acts of violence in the country.
Following the disappearance of an inmate from the prison alias Fito, Noboa decreed a state of exception and a night curfew to mobilize police and military to the streets. With this provision, rights such as free mobility, assembly, inviolability of home or correspondence are restricted.
With the attack on the TC Television channel, Noboa took another step and, without explaining the real scope of the new decision, declared Ecuador in “internal armed conflict” on Tuesday and identified organized crime groups as “terrorists and non-belligerent state actors”.
Among the criminal organizations mentioned in the decree are Los Choneros and Los Lobos, to which the two ringleaders who allegedly escaped from prison between Sunday and Tuesday belong, as well as the Tiguerones, the Lagartos or the Aguilas Killer, mentioned recurrently in episodes of previous violence in the country.
The last decree also ordered the armed forces to carry out military operations “to neutralize the identified groups”, respecting international humanitarian law.
What is the reason for the violence in the country?
The Ecuadorian authorities of the current government and the two previous ones—Guillermo Lasso (2021-2023) and Lenin Moreno (2017-2021)—have maintained that The violence initially began in prisons due to disputes between criminal gangs for control of these centers, as well as national and international routes for the distribution of drugs..
Also due to the control of territories for the sale of substances at the local level.
From there, he took to the streets until he reached the citizens and their businesses. The governments that preceded Noboa’s also decreed several states of exception and curfews, sometimes in specific localities or throughout the national territory, sometimes in the prison system, without the violent acts having ceased until now.
The former Minister of Defense, Luis Hernandezassured The Associated Press that the assault on the television channel reveals that organized crime “perceived the weakness of the State,” which is why They believed that they could easily take actions to “frighten” the country “and put it in a situation of panic.”.
Hernandez supported the president’s declaration of “internal armed conflict,” which allows him to “use lethal force.” And he added that a clear message must be sent to the population not to let them submit to “fear and chaos.”
What organized crime wants, the former minister noted, is for the State to surrender “and that is what should not be allowed.”