Ecuador arrests hundreds in bid to halt eruption of gang-based violence

Army members patrol at the Lucha de los Pobres neighbourhood in southern Quito, on January 12, 2024, as Ecuador is in a "state of emergency" since the prison escape of one of the country's most powerful narco bosses. Ecuador's armed forces were engaged in a brutal standoff with organized crime deploying more than 22,400 soldiers to put down the campaign of terror waged by gangs and which has already claimed 16 lives. Drug cartels have been waging a bloody campaign of kidnappings and attacks in response to the government crackdown on organized crime, prompting President Daniel Noboa to declare the country to be in a "state of war." (Photo by STRINGER / AFP) (Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)

Army members patrol at the Lucha de los Pobres neighbourhood in southern Quito on January 12.Stringer/AFP/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Nearly 900 people have been arrested in Ecuador since Tuesday in a national security operation to stop an outburst of gang violence, Ecuador’s presidency said.

The presidency says 94 of the 859 people detained are members of what they call “terrorist” groups.

Ecuador has been rocked by blasts, police kidnappings and prison disturbances in a wave of violence beginning with the prison escape of one of Ecuador’s most powerful drug lords last weekend.

Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa on Tuesday declared the country to be in a state of “internal armed conflict,” ordering security forces to “neutralize” several criminal gangs accused of spreading extreme violence.

Noboa also designated 22 criminal gangs to be “terrorist” organizations in the presidential decree.

In a further measure, the Ecuadorian government announced on Thursday that foreigners who want to enter the country from Colombia or Peru will have to provide a criminal record certificate in a measure designed to “prevent and control the entry of individuals who constitute a threat or risk to public safety.”

Noboa has claimed that 90% of the foreign prisoners in Ecuador are Colombians, Peruvians, and Venezuelans.

The violence was triggered by the escape of high-profile gang leader Adolfo “Fito” Macías from a prison in Guayaquil on Sunday.

Following Fito’s escape and the declaration, Ecuador’s prison agency reported incidents in at least six prisons in different provinces on Sunday.

Criminal groups then embarked on a wave of violent attacks in a show of strength designed to discourage efforts to crack down on their activities.

Ecuador, home to the Galapagos islands and a tourist-friendly dollar economy, was once known as an “island of peace,” nestled between two of the world’s largest cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia.

But the country’s deep ports have made it a key transit point for cocaine making its way to consumers in the United States and Europe.

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