President Noboa declares a state of emergency after the disappearance of a powerful gang from prison.
At least four police officers have been kidnapped in Ecuador, police say, and explosions have occurred in several cities, a day after President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency.
Noboa, a former legislator and son of one of the country’s richest men, took office in November on promises to fix the struggling economy and stem a wave of violence on the streets and in prisons, which has been growing for years.
Noboa declared the 60-day state of emergency – a tool used by his predecessor to little success – on Monday, enabling military patrols, including in prisons, and setting a national nighttime curfew.
The measure was a response to the disappearance of Adolfo Macias, leader of the Los Choneros criminal gang, from the prison where he was serving a 34-year sentence and unrest at six other prisons, including hostage-takings of prison guards.
Police and prosecutors have given scant information about Macias’s disappearance.
Three police officers working the night shift were taken from their station in the southern city of Machala, the police said on social media on Tuesday, while a fourth missing officer was taken by three people in Quito.
“Our specialised units are active with the goal of locating our colleagues and proceeding with the capture of the perpetrators,” the police said. “These acts will not remain in impunity.”
A chilling video circulating on social media illustrated the crisis that the president is now facing. It shows the group of three kidnapped officers sitting on the ground with a gun pointed at them while one is forced to read a statement addressed to the president.
“You declared war. You will get war,” the officer said. “You declared a state of emergency. We declare police, civilians and soldiers to be the spoils of war.”
“Anyone found on the street after 11pm will be executed,” said the statement read by an audibly frightened police officer.
Noboa has said he will not negotiate with “terrorists” and the government has blamed recent incidents of prison violence on the president’s plan to build a new high-security prison and transfer jailed gang leaders.
The prisons agency has given no information about the guards who are being held hostage.
Ecuador has seen violence explode in recent years as rival gangs with links to Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for power.
The kidnapping of police officers came on top of explosions in the coastal town of Esmeraldas, located in a region controlled by gangs.
Police said an explosive device was thrown near a police station and two vehicles were burned in other areas with no one killed.
In Quito, a car was reportedly blown up, and a device exploded near a pedestrian bridge. While the blasts resulted in no injuries, the capital’s municipal authority asked for reinforced security amid the “unprecedented” crisis.
Drug violence has taken a heavy toll. Last year in the country of about 18 million people, there were more than 7,800 homicides and 220 tonnes of drugs seized, a new record for the nation.
Since February 2021, clashes between prisoners have killed more than 460 people.