Yesterday at around 2pm in the local time, a live news program on an Ecuadorian television station was disrupted by a group of armed and masked individuals. The intruders brandished guns, grenades, and dynamite, and instructed employees to lay on the ground. Amidst the chaos, one person pleaded for them not to shoot. One of the attackers claimed the attack was in retaliation for tampering with criminal organizations. The broadcast on TC Televisión lasted for approximately 15 minutes before the signal was abruptly cut.
Thirteen armed individuals were eventually apprehended, and the captives were safely rescued. The shocking events in Guayaquil were part of a series of bold and coordinated assaults carried out by members of Ecuadorian gangs, resulting in the deaths of at least ten individuals. These attacks came after the leader of the country’s most notorious gang, Adolfo Macías, escaped from prison and the newly elected president, Daniel Noboa, declared a state of emergency. Although the situation is developing quickly, it seems to signify a declaration of hostility towards the nation’s delicate democratic institutions.
In today’s newsletter, featuring Dan Collyns from the Guardian, we will discuss the latest updates on recent events. Here are the main points.
Five big stories
Paula Vennells, the former chief executive of the Post Office, has announced that she will return her CBE due to the wrongful prosecution of numerous staff members. In the past few weeks, over 100 additional individuals have come forward as potential victims. Vennells expressed her remorse on Tuesday for the harm inflicted upon the sub-postmasters and their families.
The ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza has prompted the British government to acknowledge Israel’s responsibility as an occupying force to ensure essential resources are available to the people of Gaza. During a parliamentary session, David Cameron, the foreign secretary, urged Israel to remove obstructions hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid, which is putting many at risk of severe hunger.
In 2023, the climate crisis has broken the record for the hottest year in the world by a significant margin. According to scientists, the Earth was 1.48 degrees Celsius hotter in 2023 than before the widespread use of fossil fuels, which sparked the climate crisis.
Police have reported that young boys are viewing violent pornography on their mobile devices and then engaging in attacks against girls. This is supported by recent data revealing that children are now the primary perpetrators of sexual abuse against other children. The data also indicates a significant increase in sexual offenses against minors.
Several members of a Hasidic Jewish community in New York were taken into custody on Monday following a conflict involving an underground passage that was illegally constructed at the side of a significant synagogue. The discovery of the tunnel prompted law enforcement to intervene, resulting in a physical altercation with those responsible for its creation.
A comprehensive examination: ‘A statement of hostility towards the government of Ecuador’
30 minutes after the masked individuals arrived at the television studio, law enforcement officials armed with weapons arrived and entered the premises. Following the apprehension of the suspects, Alina Manrique, the news director for TC Television, expressed to the Associated Press: “I am still in disbelief. Everything has crumbled… All I can think about is leaving this country and going very far away.”
Manrique’s feelings of hopelessness highlight a bigger problem connected to the widespread presence of drug cartels in the country. According to Dan, Ecuadorians are currently experiencing unprecedented levels of fear. The increasing violence in the country has not gone unnoticed and has affected everyone. The nation is currently in a state of shock and it seems as though the drug gangs are actively waging war against the Ecuadorian government.
What happened yesterday?
In addition to the assault on the television studio, a string of seemingly connected occurrences occurred throughout the country. At least seven law enforcement officers were abducted. A car was intentionally set on fire at a gas station in the capital city, Quito. Explosive devices were utilized in subsequent attacks in the regions of Esmereldas and Los Rios. A prison break occurred in the town of Riobamba. Furthermore, five hospitals were taken over by force.
On Monday, there were riots in at least six prisons where guards were held hostage and warned that soldiers would be killed if they intervened. According to Dan, videos spread through WhatsApp showed guards being attacked, but he noted that their authenticity was not verified.
As schools, shops, and public buildings shut down, the streets were filled with traffic as individuals sought refuge in their homes. The newly appointed president of Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, announced a state of emergency. He declared, “We will not engage in talks with terrorists.”
The gangs gave a clear response to the declaration. In a video from a prison, a guard reads a message while being held at gunpoint: “You started a war, so prepare for war,” he states. “You have declared a state of emergency, so we declare that police, civilians, and soldiers are now targets of war.”
Who was responsible for this, and what was their motive?
The recent turmoil can be traced back to the events that unfolded over the past few days, which were triggered by the escape of Adolfo Macías, also known as Fito, from his prison cell in Guayaquil, the largest city in the country.
Macías is the head of the Los Choneros criminal group, considered to be one of the strongest in Ecuador. It is suspected that the group has connections to the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. Macías was imprisoned for 34 years and had previously evaded capture for a few weeks in 2013.
It is reported that he received advance notice just before he was supposed to be moved to a high-security prison. Macías resided in a roomy cell adorned with paintings and was featured in a music video titled “The Lion’s Ballad”, showing him leisurely spending time in the prison yard and playing with a fighting rooster (shown in the image above).
Dan commented, “This demonstrates the immense influence these leaders hold even while incarcerated.” He added, “It’s not shocking to those familiar with Ecuador’s methods, that Macías was able to escape. However, the level of brutality witnessed since then has caught many off guard. While it may not be planned, there are various gangs involved in this surge of violence.”
Yesterday, Noboa issued a decree stating that 22 gangs would now be considered terrorist organizations. According to Dan, the gangs are seeking to operate without consequences. Instead of fighting amongst themselves, they are now united in their fight against the Ecuadorian government.
What is the level of influence of gangs in Ecuador?
In the past four months, Dan covered a story from Guayaquil about Ecuador’s alarming increase in violence. The gangs have been able to freely operate within the prison system and have used the jails as headquarters for their activities.
Dan visited the locations of gang killings and spoke with family members of the victims while in Guayaquil. He described the city as a mix of Manila and Miami, with impoverished riverside areas used as drug routes and affluent gated communities where residents are hesitant to leave due to safety concerns. The city is marked by extreme inequality, serving as a central hub for the drug trade.
In September, six prisons experienced a large-scale hostage situation and a series of violent incidents, including car bombings and a dynamite assault on a bridge. These events were triggered by the relocation of a prominent gang leader to a different jail. The surge in violence ultimately resulted in the tragic assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio in August, who was fatally shot after attending a campaign event. Villavicencio, known for his anti-corruption stance, had previously reported being threatened by the Los Choneros and Macías gangs prior to his death.
Since 2016, the homicide rate in Ecuador has increased by nearly 500%, according to Crisis Group. Police have linked 80% of these murders to gang activity. Dan stated that this rate is among the highest in the world, even when compared to other Latin American countries. Local news often covers gruesome acts such as beheadings, public hangings, and targeted killings as gangs compete for dominance in the trade.
The increase in gang-related aggression has been linked to the death of Jorge Zambrano, the former leader of Los Choneros, in 2020. This triggered a power struggle for dominance in drug trafficking and territory. As of now, over 400 inmates in prison have lost their lives since the start of 2021.
In the meantime, drug organizations from countries such as Mexico and Albania have been attempting to gain control of the drug market in Ecuador and are funding operations within the country. The main contributing factor to this disorder is the export of cocaine, which is a significant source of income for gangs in Ecuador due to the rise in production in neighboring Colombia and a lack of strict law enforcement over the years.
What actions has the government taken in response to the violence?
Above, Noboa, a 35-year-old heir to a family fortune in the banana industry and a member of the centre-right political party, was elected president in October following the assassination of Villavicencio. He promised to take a strong stance against gang violence. Shortly after assuming office, Jaime Enrique SC, the leader of Los Choneros’ breakaway faction Los Lobos, was apprehended. This was seen as a signal of Noboa’s determination and led to retaliatory attacks against the police force in the area.
Additional actions taken included identifying judges and prosecutors responsible for releasing members of criminal gangs, as well as the building of additional high-security prisons. Recently, Noboa revealed intentions to hold a vote on implementing more measures, including granting the military a greater role. In December, he declared his tactic a triumph, stating in an interview: “We have successfully apprehended key leaders of criminal organizations in recent weeks, even receiving a request for a peace agreement from one of the groups.”
However, recent events have shown that this optimism was premature. Following the incident at the TV station, Noboa declared that Ecuador was currently experiencing an “internal armed conflict”.
Dan explained that the gangs want to oust Noboa because they recognize that they may not be able to maintain their strong connections with senior institutions and the judiciary, which have allowed them to escape punishment. This is the reason behind the recent violence.
What other materials have we been perusing?
The Miles Without Stiles program has established more than 50 additional trails in the Lake District that are accessible for wheelchair and stroller users. Ben Aitken and his friend Anthony test out one of the routes in Windermere. Matthew’s Friends.
Following the selection of Gabriel Attal, 34, as the new prime minister of France, Angelique Chrisafis’ analysis serves as a helpful introduction to the difficult task ahead of him in advancing President Emmanuel Macron’s plans.
Newly released findings reveal that the amount of carbon emissions produced during the initial two months of the conflict in Gaza surpassed those from 20 of the world’s most at-risk countries in terms of climate change. Nina Lakhani has the exclusive coverage on this report. This information was provided by Matthew Pearce, a member of the newsletters team.
Marina Hyde fiercely discusses the Post Office controversy, and its implications of a double standard in society where executives have endless excuses while regular people do not.
Can dating apps be blamed for making romance feel like a mundane task? Jordyn Beazley interviews individuals who have abandoned swiping and are reviving the traditional method of speed dating. -Matthew
Middlesbrough took a 1-0 lead in the initial match of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Chelsea. In the 37th minute, Hayden Hackney scored a goal (pictured above), giving the Championship team a slight edge at the Riverside.
Emma Raducanu pulled out of a charity tennis match on Tuesday as part of her preparation for the Australian Open, citing discomfort. According to BBC Sport, Raducanu woke up on Tuesday feeling a bit sore after a two-hour practice session on Monday and chose to take a break.
According to a survey by the Rugby Football Union, about half of match officials have reported experiencing abuse in recent seasons. This has led to the implementation of stricter penalties across all levels of the game, including the Premiership. The Guardian has uncovered this information.
The front pages
Today’s top stories in the Guardian include the former chief of the Post Office returning their CBE amidst a growing scandal. The Times reports that the Post Office chief is giving up their CBE, while the Metro expresses relief with a headline that reads “At last.” The Daily Mail is not satisfied and demands that Paula Vennells, who received large bonuses and a pension, also give back her millions. The Daily Mirror is outraged that Fujitsu, the supplier of the faulty Horizon system, is still earning £100m annually from government contracts. The i delves deeper into the scandal, reporting that Fujitsu received special treatment to secure major UK deals. The Financial Times connects the scandal to Prime Minister Sunak, stating that Fujitsu won contracts during his tenure despite the Post Office IT scandal. The Daily Telegraph reports on the architect of the postal scandal seeking immunity, allegedly the developer of the faulty software. The Daily Express also covers the story of the CBE handback, but their main headline is about rebels warning the PM over a Rwanda bill.
Today in Focus
The UK government v junior doctors
After the longest strike in the history of the NHS, the most recent industrial action in England has come to an end. What comes next? Denis Campbell provides a report.
The daily cartoon by Martin Rowson.
Some uplifting news to remind you that the world is not entirely negative.
In 2008, Milda Mitkuté established a website to sell her previously owned clothing while she was relocating. This website eventually evolved into Vinted, the popular app for buying and selling secondhand clothing, which is making a significant impact on the fast fashion industry. As the first Lithuanian “unicorn” with 16 million users in the UK, Vinted’s goal is to make purchasing secondhand items the primary choice for consumers.
Melanie Monchar, a user on Vinted, stated that she appreciates the income she receives from the platform. However, she also feels guilty about discarding items. She finds it incredible that she can sell gently used items that still have a lot of life left in them.
Register to receive The Upside’s weekly roundup, delivered to your inbox every Sunday.
Bored at work?
Lastly, the Guardian’s puzzles are available to provide entertainment for your entire day – with even more options on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. See you tomorrow.