View of Turi Prison as Ecuadorian forces take part in an operation to take control of it, in Cuenca, Ecuador, January 14, 2024. STRINGER/Portal
The Ecuadorian army and police regained control of several prisons on Sunday, January 14, and released more than 200 prison administration officials who had been taken hostage. According to General Pablo Velasco, “control has been restored in six detention centers” and “an operation is underway” in a final prison in the southern province of Cotopaxi. “ [Il n’y a pas eu] I agree (…), the military intervention took place after the hostages were released,” confirmed General Velasco.
This nationwide operation, launched hours after the announcement of the release of 136 guards and other officials taken hostage by the mutineers, returned the country to some normality after a week of chaos.
Against the backdrop of the “war” that has begun in recent days between criminal gangs linked to drug trafficking and the security forces, the army has broadcast images showing hundreds of prisoners lined up, with their hands on their heads, without Shirt or undershirt, held at gunpoint by soldiers. Under the strict supervision of the soldiers, the prisoners had to sing the national anthem in a close row at the foot of the Ecuadorian flag.
The Prison Administration (SNAI) announced that “the joint action of the police and the army enabled the release of all hostages held in various prisons in the country.” However, according to the latest press release on Sunday evening, the new number of released prisoners stands at 201.
The President, Daniel Noboa, welcomed the “release” of the hostages on X and said “we continue to work to restore peace.”
Images released by police showed the guards, many of them women, crying, exhausted and supported by their colleagues shortly after their release. “Thank God we all got out of it okay. We are in good health,” the freed Cotopaxi hostages said in another video on social media, waving an Ecuadorian flag.
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For a week now, hostages with knives to their throats or guns to their heads have been calling on authorities for help and restraint in videos broadcast on networks. The SNAI reported on Saturday the death of a guard in clashes with prisoners in El Oro province (southwest on the border with Peru), bringing the total death toll from a week of terror to nineteen dead, including civilians, prison guards, police officers and Prisoners, says the latest official report. During this hostage crisis, prison authorities released very few details as security forces confronted mutinous prisoners in some prisons and negotiated them in others.
The announcement on January 7 of the escape of the feared leader of the Choneros gang, Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito”, triggered a wave of mutinies with hostage-taking in at least five prisons, attacks against the order of the armed forces and other acts aimed at to sow terror. President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency and ordered the army to neutralize these criminal gangs, now considered “terrorists.” More than 22,400 troops were deployed, with land, air and sea patrols, while a curfew was imposed.
Once an oasis of peace, the country is at the mercy of criminal gangs
The situation has returned to relative normality after a wave of panic across Ecuador sparked by Tuesday's live attack on the studios of a public television station in Guayaquil, the epicenter of drug traffickers' violence. This is the case in both Guayaquil and the capital Quito during the day, although Ecuadorians quickly return to the safety of their homes at the end of the afternoon. Ecuador, once an oasis of peace, has in recent years become a transshipment point for cocaine produced in its Colombian and Peruvian neighbors.
Drug traffickers have gradually enforced their law in this country, which is at the mercy of criminal gangs. Ecuadorian prisons, overcrowded and divided by gangs, are regular scenes of massacres between these rival gangs: Choneros (“those from Chone,” a town in western Ecuador), tiguerones (“tigers”), lobos (“wolves”) and other aguilas (“Eagle”).
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Daniel Noboa, 36, was elected the youngest president in Ecuador's history last November on a promise to restore security. His predecessor, the conservative Guillermo Lasso, faced several outbreaks of violence in prisons and declared a state of emergency more than once, without managing to bring the situation back under control and, more generally, to curb the drug trade linked to corruption that was blighting the country.
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