Ecuador is in conflict with narcos and the president declares a state of emergency. What happen?

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What’s going on in Ecuador? In summary, the South American country has been put in check by the drug traffickers after the escape of two criminal bosses, he finds himself in a state of emergency and risks falling into a situation of civil war. President Daniel Noboa was forced to impose a curfew and, on the day of Tuesday 9 January 2024declared the state of “internal armed conflict”. The measure immediately triggered the armed forces and the police Ecuadorians, who will have to try to restore peace and national order, combating armed narco groups especially in the port city of Guayaquil, center of violence. Meanwhile the Peru has sent special forces to the border with Ecuador to prevent the unrest from spreading to a wider area.

What happened in Ecuador and the attack on TC Television

The clashes caused by criminal gangs have unfortunately led to death of at least 10 people (data updated at 10:00 Italian time on 10/01/24), to looting of shopping centres, to the destruction of cars in the street and to episodes of great media outcry, such as theirruption of a commando armed in one television studio of the TC Television channel of Guayaquil during a live broadcast. Fortunately, the attack was subsequently foiled, the 13 guilty criminals arrested and the hostages freed.

The Ecuadorian Ministry of Health has suspended most of services provided by hospitals and clinics, such as visits, hospitalizations and scheduled surgeries, keeping only emergency services active. Furthermore the population was invited to stay at home to avoid suffering any type of violence, given that the narcos have attacked police stations, universities and shopping centers also with the aim of obtaining money hostages.

paper map ecuador guayaquil

Ecuadorian drug traffickers and escaped bosses

But who are the perpetrators of the violence? The decree signed by President Noboa contains the list of well 22 organized crime groups, defined as terrorists to be neutralized. It’s about organizations Aguilas, AguilarKiller, AK47, Dark Knights, ChoneKiller, Choneros, Corvicheros, Cuartel de las Feas, Cubans, Fatales, Gánster, Kater Piler, Lagartos, Latin Kings, Lobos, Los p .27, Los Tiburones, Mafia 18, Mafia Trébol, Patrones, R7 And Tiguerones.

It was precisely the prisoners belonging to these criminal groups who had occupied six prisons in the country, starting from 7 January 2024, with the aim of avoiding the movement of numerous prisoners. Not only that, in recent weeks theevasion of two of the most important drug trafficking boss Ecuadorian. Let’s talk about José Adolfo Macías Villamarnicknamed ‘Fito’, and of Fabricio Colon Picomember of Los Lobos.

President Noboa had plans to separate gang leaders from the other prisoners and build new maximum security penitentiaries, but the explosion of violence is preventing him from proceeding. However, this is nothing new: the previous three governments had also made the same promises, but they had failed.


The economic, social and political crisis of the country

At present the Parliament of the country, evacuated on 10 January for security reasons, is working in a cohesive manner, without excluding any political force, to try to bring Ecuador back to a condition of normality and to identify and punish those mainly responsible for the escapes and of unrest. They have already been 14 people arrested (data updated at 10:00 Italian time on 10/01/24) and they were surrounded the hottest areas of the country and the prisons in the hands of drug traffickers.

At the moment it is not known how the situation could evolve, but what is certain is that the clashes of recent days are only the peak of a new serious internal social, political and economic crisis which has been weighing on the country for some years.

Ecuador is a young presidential republic: it was born in 1979but he has already lived three coups (1997, 2000 and 2005), driven by popular protests and carried out by fringes of Parliament and the army. It is therefore an unstable nation and currently marked by a political division internal battle between supporters and opponents of the former president Rafael Correawho remained in office from 2007 to 2017 and is currently a political refugee in Belgium, after being sentenced to 8 years in prison for corruption in 2020. In foreign policy, Correa had removed from the United Statesscuppering a free trade agreement with the USA and not renewing the concession of a military base within the country.

The current president Noboa, of 35 years, son of one of the greatest Ecuadorian entrepreneurs, won the early presidential elections in October 2023 with the promise of sewing up this division between “correists” and “anti-correists” and with the aim of reviving the country’s economy and to increase the internal level of security. In this regard, it is precisely the drug trafficking the great challenge to be won in Ecuador.

President Ecuador Noboa

Drug trafficking and prisons in Ecuador

As highlighted, among others, by a recent analysis by, criminal organizations have found the perfect conditions in the country to act and grow dramatically. Ecuador is among the two largest producers of cocaine to the world, the Colombia and the Peru, so for decades it has been crossed by trafficking of all kinds. Not only that: after the Colombian decision of 2016 to find a peace agreement with the guerrillas of FARC, an organization responsible for much of Colombia’s drug trafficking, several drug traffickers opposed to the agreement have moved to Ecuador to operate with greater freedom. Add to this situation: security cuts that Ecuador had to impose for greater economic stability, especially after the damage caused by Covid-19 pandemicand now the reduced American support (given the failure to renew the concession for the military base in the country).

In short, the result was dramatic. To cite some data indicative of the insecurity situation in the country, reported for example by the International Crisis Group, the number of prisoners has increased from 11,000 in 2009 to more than 31,000 currentlyhomicides per year averaged at 40 per 100,000 inhabitantsone of the main candidates in the presidential elections of October 2023 (Fernando Villavicencio) was killed in the election campaign and, from the beginning of 2021 to the beginning of 2023, there were eleven massacres on a large scale within the prisons themselves. The first massacre of this type occurred on February 23, 2021, when 79 prisoners were beheaded in the Guayaquil penitentiary.

It’s right there condition of penitentiaries to worry the Ecuadorian political and military forces the most. And, not surprisingly, that’s where the revolt in the country started. As reported by an in-depth article in El Pais, various Ecuadorian penitentiaries they are in the hands of the prisoners themselves and they have now become real drug trafficking strongholds, from which assassinations, attacks, extortions are ordered and the logistics and operations of drug trafficking are directed. All with the collusion of a large portion of law enforcement and state forcesdeeply corrupt.