Ecuador security forces launch major prison operation

January 19, 2024 5:00 pm

[Source: BBC]

Security forces in Ecuador have launched an operation in a major prison complex in the port city of Guayaquil.

Soldiers and police officers have entered the facility and say they have restored order following a week of rioting in jails across the country.

Ecuador’s President, Daniel Noboa, has said his government is at war with gangs and organised crime.

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Earlier this month, gang leader Adolfo Macías Villamar, known as “Fito”, escaped from the same complex.

Images show hundreds of troops storming the main prison in Guayaquil, as President Daniel Noboa’s crackdown on gangs shows little sign of slowing down.

The troops appear to have taken back control of the penitentiary which is considered the base of operations for the drug gangs in Guayaquil.

The government’s recent move comes shortly after the murder of a prosecutor, César Suárez, who was investigating organised crime in Ecuador.

Mr Suarez, who was murdered on his way to a hearing on Wednesday, had been looking into a siege at a local television station in Guayaquil when masked gunmen took over the channel live on air and held the journalists hostage at gunpoint.

Earlier this year, drug gang leader Fito’s escape from La Regional prison sparked a wave of violence both inside the prison system and on the streets.

Police had entered the prison on 7 January looking to move Fito to a higher security wing within the same compound, but found his cell empty.

Two prison guards have been charged with helping him escape, and a government spokesman said he had been tipped off about his impending transfer.

News of his escape sparked riots in at least six jails across the country and saw prison guards held hostage, and explosive devices set off in several cities across the country.

President Daniel Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency in Ecuador on 8 January.

He said the country is in an “internal armed conflict” with drug gangs and ordered his military to “neutralise” 22 armed groups – which he redefined as terrorist organisations.

Speaking to the BBC during his first visit to Guayaquil since the violence broke out, the president said he would not allow it to continue.

“I didn’t sign up for this thinking it was going to be easy,” he said.

“We can’t continue with this game that these terrorist groups are trying to establish.”

The escape of Fito and ensuing violence represents a huge blow to Mr Noboa’s presidency, which began in November last year.

At the age of 36, Mr Noboa became Ecuador’s youngest leader to be democratically elected, winning an election tarnished by the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.

Mr Villavicencio had reported receiving death threats from Fito just days before he was shot dead while leaving a campaign rally in Quito.