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Ecuador president declares state of emergency after drug lord escapes jail

In World
January 09, 2024

President Daniel Noboa on Monday declared a 60-day state of emergency after one of Ecuador’s most notorious drug lords escaped prison and renewed rioting broke out at other penitentiaries across the Andean nation.

The state of emergency includes a partial nightly curfew amid a manhunt of more than 3,000 police officers and soldiers to recapture Adolfo Macias, the head of the Los Choneros crime gang, after prison guards on Sunday noticed his absence from a penitentiary in Guayaquil.

“These narco-terrorists want to intimidate us and think that we’ll give in to their demands,” Noboa said in a video distributed on social networks.

The drug lord’s escape is an embarrassing development for the new administration that took office in November promising to control a crime wave that has turned Ecuador into one of Latin America’s most dangerous countries.

Adolfo Macias, aka Fito, leader of the Los Choneros criminal gang. File photo: Ecuadorean Armed Forces via AFP

Fito, as Macias is commonly known, likely escaped after he was warned of his impending transfer to a more secure facility, Ecuador government spokesman Roberto Izurieta told local TV station Teleamazonas early Monday.

The saga is the latest indication that Ecuador’s prison system has “completely failed”, Izurieta said.

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Prosecutors accused two prison guards of having aided Fito in his escape. Riots were reported at six other facilities across the country, with an unspecified number of prison guards taken hostage by inmates, according to the nation’s prison service.

The escape came just days before Noboa’s expected unveiling of a plan to reform the prison system, which has experienced a rash of deadly riots in recent years.

Ecuadorean officials have blamed the problems on increased efforts to combat drug trafficking and organising crime, as they have struggled to control outbreaks of violence that have resulted in the deaths of more than 400 inmates since early 2020.

Noboa, a 36-year-old heir to a banana fortune who won election in October, attended an emergency security meeting late Sunday in Guayaquil but has yet to comment on the incident.

He pledged to build offshore prisons for dangerous criminals during last year’s campaign, and the reform plan will include a new maximum security facility in the sparsely-populated Amazon province of Pastaza, Izurieta said.

The prison problems have occurred alongside a broader surge in violence that ranked as voters’ top concern during the election. Ecuador’s murder rate hit 46.5 per 100,000 people last year, nearly twice the previous record set in 2022 and eight times its 2018 level.

In December, Prosecutor General Diana Salazar warned that drug gangs would respond to a large-scale probe of corruption in the judiciary with increased violence.

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