Ecuador Declares State of Emergency After Drug Cartel Kingpin Prison Break

Ecuador is in a national state of emergency after drug lord Jose Adolfo Macias escaped prison

Ecuador narco violence

Photo: Pixabay/ David Aguirre

Violence has risen exponentially in Ecuador over the past few days, turning into an armed conflict that is terrifying the country. At least four police officers have been kidnapped and taken hostage in the streets, cities have been attacked with explosions, and many civilians have been attacked and murdered, all allegedly at the hands of members from various gangs and drug cartels. It all started on January 7 after José Adolfo Macías Villamar, who also goes by the alias Fito, the leader of the gang Los Choneros, broke out of a high-security prison in Guayaquil during his scheduled transfer to another prison in the city. He was sentenced in 2011 to 34 years for charges including drug trafficking, murder, and organized crime. His escape has led to two guards being arrested for assisting him, as well as inmate riots at other prisons across the country. In one of the most brazen acts, 13 masked gang members raided a news station during a live newscast on Tuesday, Jan. 11 waving guns and issuing threats to the staff all while viewers watched the assault for the duration of about 15 minutes. No one was killed and authorities later said that all the intruders had been arrested and would be charged with terrorism, the Associated Press reported.

In response to the violence, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa has declared a national state of emergency in what he is calling an “internal armed conflict,” which will reportedly last for 60 days to allow the military to take back control, according to France 24.

“Ecuador faces increasing rates of violence, penetration of organized crime in the social and institutional fabric and terrorist acts that threaten territorial security and State sovereignty,” President Noboa said in his decree. “The incidence of organized crime and gradual institutional breakdown has been the cumulative result of non-existent public policies aimed at consolidating citizen security and strategic interest of the State.” On Instagram, he went on to name several gangs he claims are responsible for the recent violence including Villamar’s gang Los Choneros, as well as Cuartel de las Feas, Latin Kings, and Fatales.

The 44-year-old’s rap sheet includes robbery, murder, manslaughter, illicit association, organized crime, possession of weapons, attack on life and crime against property are among at least 30 charges against him, according to Ecuador’s judiciary. He was born in Manta, a coastal city in the province of Manabí, where Los Choneros emerged in the 1990s, according to local authorities who classify the gang as a terrorist organization with links to gangs in Mexico and Colombia. More than 130 prison staff are currently being held hostage by inmates across five jails, while police officers have been killed, The Independent reported.

Though this conflict is recent, violence as a result of the drug trade, particularly cocaine, goes as far back as 2018. Hundreds of civilians, inmates, and gang members have been targeted and killed, riots have broken out across the country, presidential candidates have been assassinated, and multiple states of emergency have been declared, most recently in 2021. This isn’t even the first time Villamar has escaped from prison, with his first attempt happening over a decade ago in 2013. Another major problem adding to the violence is Ecuador’s system of overcrowding prisons, which has caused clashes between rival gangs and led to the deaths of more than 400 inmates since 2021.

Authorities outside of the presidency have yet to share which specific gangs are responsible for the violence happening this year but the government has made it clear that there will be no negotiations taking place and that the goal is complete neutralization by the military. Civilians in the country are being advised to avoid going outdoors when possible, with schoolchildren shifting to remote learning.

“The time is over when drug trafficking convicts, hitmen, and organized crime dictate to the government what to do,” President Noboa said in a video announcement on Instagram.

As of the publication of this story the whereabouts of Fito are still unknown.

Additional reporting by Virginia Isaad

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