The release of all hostages detained in Ecuadorian jails marks a significant turning point in the ongoing struggle against drug trafficking organizations. President Daniel Noboa has played a crucial role in authorizing the release of inmates from seven different regions, bringing hope and relief to their loved ones. The successful operation was conducted with the collaboration of the National Police and the Armed Forces, following tight security protocols.
The magnitude of the situation is exemplified by the widespread geographical reach of the detainees’ release. From the northern border with Colombia to the southern border with Peru, detainees across seven provinces in Ecuador have been freed. President Daniel Noboa personally verified the release, highlighting its importance in the wake of threats from drug trafficking organizations specifically targeting him.
Social media has allowed glimpses into the emotional aftermath of the release, as videos emerged of grateful prison guards expressing relief and gratitude for their safe escape. One notable video showcases a prison guard, accompanying an Ecuadorian flag, addressing his fellow guards who were freed from a detention facility in the southern Andean region of Cotopaxi. Another video captures the sheer gratitude of a jail guard, audibly thanking their rescuers for their release.
While the release signifies progress, it’s important to acknowledge that there are still detainees held captive. According to the prior report from the National Agency of Prison Administration (SNAI), 133 guards and 3 administrative staff members remain captive, despite the release of 41 individuals through the efforts of the Catholic Church. However, it’s worth noting that some individuals have already been granted freedom.
The situation in Ecuador’s prisons is far from isolated incidents of captivity. Over twenty groups exploit jail systems to propagate fear and impose their brutal reign over inmates. This alarming trend has emerged in response to the stringent measures implemented by the Noboa government to combat these criminal organizations. Currently, over a thousand individuals are confined in the grip of these groups, plagued by violence and the constant threat to their lives.
The impetus for this dire situation can be traced back to the escape of Adolfo Macías, also known as “Fito,” the infamous leader of the criminal faction “Los Choneros.” His mysterious disappearance from a jail in the port city of Guayaquil triggered a wave of violence, resulting in almost 460 fatalities among prisoners. The aftermath of Fito’s escape was characterized by prison riots, inmates taking employees and guards hostage, the kidnapping of police officers, numerous escaped inmates, explosive attacks, and even burnt vehicles.
To address these issues, the National Service for Comprehensive Assistance to Persons Deprived of Liberty (SNAI) has pledged to hold those responsible for the prison violence accountable. Importantly, the situation has prompted the implementation of a six-hour curfew starting at 11 pm local time, complemented by a 60-day state of exception across the nation, including in jails. The presence of hundreds of troops and police officers allows for continued efforts in the search for Fito, who is believed to have fled to neighboring Colombia, home to the world’s largest coca fields.
Despite the dire circumstances, President Daniel Noboa remains steadfast in fighting against the factions and violence aimed at destabilizing the state. In an interview with the BBC, Noboa expressed his unwavering determination, stating that he believes victory is attainable and that he will persist until it is achieved.
Ecuador’s transformation into a stronghold for drug trafficking has become an urgent concern, with criminal organizations using prisons as their operational hubs. From these criminal offices, drug lords oversee drug trades, orchestrate assassinations, manage illicit finances, and engage in deadly power struggles with rival factions. Previously a safe haven, Ecuador has now become a battleground, attracting drug traffickers seeking dominance in the US and European markets.
The escalating violence and internal conflict have resulted in a skyrocketing murder rate, jumping from 6 per 100,000 people in previous years to a staggering 46 in 2023. These challenging circumstances, akin to those faced by Colombia a century ago, are further exacerbated by the presence of uncontrollable prisons. In response to this crisis, President Noboa’s administration plans to construct two “super-maximum” prisons with a combined capacity of almost 3,000, aimed at incarcerating the most dangerous criminals. Additionally, he advocates for the use of prison ships to mitigate the risks posed by confining criminals on land.
The impact of this ongoing drug trafficking onslaught was brought to the world’s attention when a live-streamed television station fell victim to an attack orchestrated by these criminal factions. The ripple effect of this incident reverberated globally, exposing the significance and reach of this issue.
Though progress has been made with the release of hostages, the battle against drug trafficking organizations continues. President Daniel Noboa’s unwavering determination, alongside the collaborative efforts of the National Police and the Armed Forces, stands as a beacon of hope in the quest for a safer and more secure Ecuador.