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Ecuadorian Gang Violence Rises After Escape of Notorious Gang Leader

Courtesy of The New York Times
Courtesy of The New York Times

Gang violence, as well as the escape of a high-profile prisoner, has erupted the country of Ecuador into a state of emergency.

On January 7, Adolfo Macías Villamar, a notorious gang leader who is better known as “Fito,” was supposed to be transferred to La Roca, a smaller prison that was considered safer due to the smaller number of inmates. However, on the day he was to be transferred, Fito’s cell was found to be empty. News of Fito’s escape led to at least six prison riots across the country, with incidents like guards being taken hostage happening in multiple of the riots.

Back in 2021, Villamar spoke to journalists Andersson Boscán and Mónica Velásquez in an interview, saying that any attempts to move himself or other gang leaders to La Roca would end in a “sudden death” scenario in which riots across multiple prisons would occur.

On January 8, the president of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, issued a 60-day state of emergency alongside a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night. The state of emergency allows police to stop people on the streets and check them for weapons. They are also able to extend their search to homes of people suspected to be hiding explosives or weapons. 

On January 9, masked gunmen attacked TC Television’s offices and held the employees and journalists hostage on live television. After at least 15 minutes the transmission was cut, with it being said that the police came in and swiftly arrested the intruders. 

It is also stated in the article “How Ecuador descended into gang violence,” by Vanessa Buschschlüter, that on the day that the TV studio was stormed, the president also declared an “armed internal conflict.”

This is not the only time gang members have attacked civilian buildings. In 2022, multiple gunmen stormed a hospital in search of a rival gang member, who was in the hospital to recover from bullet wounds.

Gang violence is not a problem that has just popped into Ecuador recently. Years of conflict between gangs have been plaguing the country, with recent events only sparking more conflict. Many citizens are scared to leave their own homes due to the violence from the prison riots leaking out onto the streets.

To try and combat the problem, President Noboa has ordered armed forces to “neutralize” any gangs that are stoking the conflict. A list of twenty-two gangs was published, with it being stated that those groups would now be considered terrorist groups. It was also said that there would be no negotiations with the gangs included in the list.

In not only Ecuador but in many countries, gang violence has been out of control for years. With the many internal conflicts in other countries, the United States should also pay attention to the problems in its own states.

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