Security authorities in Ecuador detained more than 6,600 individuals in the first month since the country declared its operation to crush gang violence a formal “internal armed conflict.”
Ecuador, which has been engulfed by out-of-control gang violence in recent years, declared a war on organized crime in January through a decree signed by President Daniel Noboa. The internal conflict decree designated over 20 of Ecuador’s most dangerous criminal gangs targets for the military, rather than the police.
The war declaration is accompanied by a state of exception decree issued in response to a series of terrorist actions that occurred in early January, which included kidnappings, prison riots, and the detonation of explosive devices against civilian and police vehicles. On January 9, a group of armed assailants stormed the local news network TC Television and kidnapped the channel’s staff, placing makeshift explosive devices in journalists’ pockets.
The eruption of violence in Ecuador followed the escape from prison of José Adolfo “Fito” Macías, the country’s most notorious gang leader. Macías, who leads the Choneros gang, seemingly “vanished” from his prison cell in Guayaquil at the start of the year.
According to the latest update from the Ecuadorian government, dated February 7, the nation’s security forces have conducted more than 77,870 security operations since the signing of the war decree, resulting in the detention of 6,626 individuals, of which 241 were arrested under the presumption of having committed terrorist activities.
— Presidencia Ecuador (@Presidencia_Ec) February 7, 2024
The Ecuadorian government also said it had seized 2,116 firearms, 3,038 bladed weapons, 1,197 gun magazines, some 144,000 bullets, nearly 10,000 explosives, and more than $168,000 from suspects as of February 7. Police also confiscated 46.8 tons of drugs during that time period. Two police officers were reported killed during the ongoing security operations.
The results of the first month of the war declaration were framed as part of Noboa’s “Phoenix Plan,” a broad list of security-related measures intended to curb Ecuador’s crime, gang violence, and drug trafficking problems.
One part of the broad plan calls for the construction of two new maximum-security prisons similar in style to the “mega-prison” built by Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele in 2023 as part of that country’s ongoing crackdown on gang violence. Construction on the two prisons began in January and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
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Noboa’s government is also undergoing proceedings to prepare a national referendum. Most of the upcoming referendum’s 11 questions will ask the nation’s electorate if they agree with specific security-related proposals, such as lengthening prison sentences for drug trafficking, terrorism, homicides, arms trafficking, and other crimes, as well as approval to conduct a series of migration reforms to bolster Ecuador’s security.
The Ecuadorian government is also planning to conduct mass deportations of foreign prison inmates in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding.
Ecuador crime statistics indicate that 2023 was the country’s most violent year in recent memory, with 7,270 homicides registered by local authorities — a 69-percent increase from 2022’s 4,294 homicides.
The rampant increase in violence made its presence felt in last year’s presidential campaign, most notably with the assassination of anti-socialist and anti-China candidate Fernando Villavicencio. Villavicencio, a former journalist, was murdered in August as he was leaving a campaign rally. Some days later, a shootout was reported near one of Noboa’s campaign rallies, the incident left no reported injured.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.