Ecuador President Daniel Noboa said on Wednesday that his country was “at war” with drug gangs who are holding more than 130 prison guards and other staff hostage, amid a dramatic surge in violence that saw gunmen briefly take over a TV live broadcast and explosions in multiple cities.
Noboa on Tuesday named 22 gangs as terrorist organizations, making them official military targets. The president took power in November pledging to tackle a growing security problem caused by a rise in drug-trafficking gangs transporting cocaine through Ecuador.
“We are at war and we cannot cede in the face of these terrorist groups,” Noboa told radio station Canela Radio on Wednesday. He estimated that some 20,000 crime gang members are active in Ecuador.
The hostage-takings, which began in the early hours of Monday, and the apparent escape of Los Choneros gang leader Adolfo Macias from prison over the weekend, spurred Noboa to declare a 60-day state of emergency.
He hardened the decree on Tuesday after a series of explosions around the country and the cinematic takeover of the TC television station by balaclava-clad gunmen live on air.
The government has said the latest wave of violence is a reaction to Noboa’s plan to build new high-security prisons for gang leaders. Noboa told the radio station a design for two new facilities will be made public tomorrow.