The president of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, has refuted allegations that his administration is engaging in a widespread operation to pursue and eliminate gang members. This comes as the country faces a week of turmoil and fatal aggression that has been labeled as a state of warfare.
During his initial interviews since the unrest began on Monday, the 36-year-old president of Ecuador stated that he is committed to preventing his country from becoming a “narco-state.” He believes that the most effective approach to achieve this is through a strict crackdown on organized crime groups that are causing “terror” in the prison system and on the streets.
In recent years, Ecuador’s reputation as a peaceful nation in South America has been challenged as the murder rate has significantly increased. In 2020, there were 7,878 reported killings, a sharp rise from previous years. This surge in violence is attributed to the presence of Mexican cartels and foreign mafia organizations using the country as a crucial route for drug trafficking.
Noboa stated that while they are not actively seeking to harm or kill individuals, they are engaged in a war against well-equipped and organized enemies who have both local and global financial support. He also noted the widespread reach of their terror and criminal activities, extending beyond the borders of Ecuador.
Noboa, who won the election last October, stated that they are constantly battling to prevent their country from becoming a narco-state. They have confidence in their ability to emerge victorious and are determined to continue the fight until they do so.
The leader addressed the public while visiting Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador. The city was heavily affected by recent violence as gang members carried out a string of seemingly planned attacks across the country. These attacks involved car bombings, setting fire to vehicles and buildings, and taking numerous prison guards as hostages.
The lively port city on the Pacific, where Ecuador’s primary container terminal is located, is a key player in the illegal transportation of cocaine from South America to the United States and Europe. In recent years, the city has been plagued by gang conflicts as competing groups compete for dominance.
On Tuesday, a group of violent criminals with weapons entered a television station in Guayaquil and held the journalists there as hostages during a live broadcast. Noboa, who visited the studio that was damaged by bullets, assured that this incident will not occur again. The police special forces were able to rescue the journalists and apprehend 13 individuals.
However, shortly after his speech, there were additional accounts of disorder as news surfaced that six prisoners had escaped from a nearby jail on Friday evening. In the southern city of Cuenca, there were reports of gunshots and explosions emanating from another prison in the early morning hours of Saturday.
In the evening, it was reported that all prison guards who were being held by inmates had either been freed or managed to escape. According to the SNAI prisons agency, the hostages, consisting of 158 guards and 20 administrative staff members, had been held captive since last Monday in at least seven different prisons.
SNAI stated that an inquiry would be conducted to identify the individuals responsible for the hostage situation.
Earlier on Saturday, SNAI reported incidents at multiple prisons, including a confrontation with armed inmates at the prison in El Oro province which led to the death of a guard.
According to Ecuador’s government, over 850 individuals have been arrested in the initial days of Noboa’s law enforcement initiative called “Plan Phoenix.” This name suggests his determination to rescue his country from destruction. The government also reported the deaths of five “terrorists” and the confiscation of 246 firearms through over 7,800 operations carried out by the police and military. Sadly, two police officers lost their lives in the process.
Noboa stated that the criminals have violated all human rights and the crackdown was a final option. He dismissed concerns that using military force against organized crime would result in human rights violations, which has occurred in other Latin American nations like Colombia and Mexico.
Noboa, who received his education in the US and is the son of a wealthy banana mogul from Guayaquil, denied allegations that he was using the government crackdown as a means to hold onto his position of power. He downplayed any comparisons to El Salvador’s authoritarian leader, Nayib Bukele, who has imprisoned numerous individuals accused of being gang members since implementing a contentious anti-gang operation in 2022. Bukele is also running for re-election next month.
Noboa stated that he has no intention, unlike other governors, to amend the constitution in order to extend his time in office or to proclaim himself as a dictator. He clarified that his leadership does not resemble a dictatorship.
Over 22,000 Ecuadorean soldiers were sent out to quell the chaos and “neutralize” the gangs, while grieving families of those who lost their lives during one of the worst episodes of violence in the country’s recent past.
“I can only find comfort in the fact that he died out of love,” stated Camille Gamarra. Her husband, Diego Gallardo, a well-regarded musician, was fatally shot while picking up his stepson in Guayaquil amidst the chaos of last Tuesday. “Even in the midst of the turmoil, he sacrificed himself for his stepson,” Gamarra reflected as she made arrangements for her husband’s funeral. “The only thing that can sustain us now is holding onto that love.”
“The ex-leader of Ecuador’s naval forces, vice-admiral Ángel Sarzosa Aguirre, asserted that the government had no alternative but to take action against the criminal organizations, cautioning: “If they resist, they will face death.”
Blanca Moncada also contributed to the reporting.
Blanca Moncada provided additional reporting.