On Tuesday, January 9th Ecuador witnessed a dramatic escalation in gang violence broadcast live to the nation when masked gunmen stormed a TV studio in Guayaquil. This alarming incident is part of a series of attacks following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency in response to the apparent escape of a powerful gang leader from prison.
The country plunged into chaos as President Daniel Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency and a nightly curfew. The crisis was triggered by the escape of Jose Adolfo Macias, also known as “Fito,” the leader of Ecuador’s largest gang, Los Choneros, from La Regional prison in Guayaquil. In response, gangsters unleashed a wave of terror across Ecuador and in several overcrowded prisons.
At least 10 people were killed in attacks in Guayaquil, and two officers were murdered in the nearby town of Nobol. Local gangs retaliated by taking several police officers hostage and setting off explosions in various cities. The most shocking of these incidents occurred at the state-owned TC Television studio, where armed and hooded gang members interrupted a live broadcast with guns and explosives. The 13 gunmen involved in this attack were later arrested.
Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest coastal city, has become a hub for drug smuggling and is considered the country’s most dangerous city. The recent surge in violence has been attributed to the country’s role as a key stop on the cocaine trade route to the United States and Europe. The murder rate in Ecuador quadrupled from 2018 to 2022, with a record 200 tons of drugs seized last year.
President Noboa, who took office in November, faces his first major test in addressing the soaring levels of violence. He has identified several criminal gangs as terrorist groups and military targets, including Los Choneros, and ordered the armed forces to neutralize these groups.
The unrest has led neighboring Peru to declare an emergency along its border with Ecuador, while Brazil, Colombia, and Chile have expressed support for the Ecuadorian government. The Chinese embassy and consulate general in Ecuador have temporarily closed due to the violence, and the United States has expressed its readiness to assist Noboa’s administration.
This wave of violence in Ecuador highlights the deep-rooted issues of gang dominance, drug trafficking, and the challenges of maintaining security in a dollarized economy.