How Ecuador descended into gang violence


Terrified journalists being forced to kneel in a TV studio by gunmen pointing high-powered weapons at their heads as the cameras rolled, police officers pleading for their lives after being kidnapped on duty.

The scenes which have unfolded in Ecuador show the extent to which this once peaceful haven in Latin America has descended into violence.

Here, we take a closer look at how Ecuador became involved in what its president has declared an “armed internal conflict”.

What is happening?

Ecuador’s president, Daniel Noboa, has ordered the armed forces to restore order in the country after days of unrest which saw two gang leaders escape from jail, prison guards held hostage, and explosive devices set off in a number of cities across the country.

In the most dramatic attack, a group of armed men forced their into the studios of TC Television in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, and tried to force one of the presenters to read out a message live on air.

The gunmen were eventually overpowered by soldiers and have been arrested but the live footage of the stand-off between the hooded men and the armed forces while TC staff cowered on the floor have terrified Ecuadoreans.

The most recent surge in violence kicked off on 7 January when police moved into La Regional, a prison in the port city of Guayaquil, where notorious gang leader Adolfo Macías Villamar, better known as “Fito”, was being held.

The plan had been to transfer Fito to La Roca, a smaller prison within the same compound, which is considered safer as it holds fewer inmates.

But when police entered Fito’s cell, they found it empty.

A government spokesman said that Fito had been tipped off about his impending transfer as early as Christmas, and had escaped before he could be moved.

It is not clear when exactly he absconded or how, but two prison guards have been charged with helping him escape.

News of his escape triggered riots in at least six jails across the country, with a number of prison guards taken hostage.

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