AMERICA/ECUADOR - There are still 180 hostages in prisons; the bishops: "May Ecuador once again be a place of peace, work and fraternity"

Friday, 12 January 2024 criminality   bishops  

Quito (Agenzia Fides) - There are still 180 hostages in the hands of prisoners in revolt in 7 prisons in Ecuador. Since January 8, 158 prison guards and 20 members of administrative staff have been taken hostage, just after President Daniel Noboa decreed a state of emergency following the escape from the Guayaquil regional prison of José Adolfo Macías Salazar, alias "Fito", considered the main criminal leader of the country (see Fides, 9/1/2024).
Thus, the confrontation initiated by the newly elected President against the criminal groups that control cocaine trafficking and that until now had de facto control of the country's prisons continues. Since the beginning of the week, the gangs have unleashed a terrorist campaign in the country, with the assault on a television headquarters, murders of police officers, shootings and explosions of devices, to the point that the Head of State has declared that the country is in a situation of "internal armed conflict" (see Fides, 10/1/2024). Noboa has so far outlined two pillars of his strategy to combat organized crime; recovering state control of prisons by building new maximum security prisons, as he promised in his electoral campaign, and increasing controls on Peruvian and Colombian citizens who will be asked for a criminal certificate from the country of origin or residence for the last five years to enter Ecuador. In addition, Noboa has stated that around 1,500 Colombians will be repatriated in the coming days. Ecuadorian criminal gangs maintain close relations with Colombian, Mexican and Albanian drug trafficking organizations. The latter "manage" cocaine trafficking from Colombia and Peru, which transits through Ecuador and is destined for the European market. From Peru, in addition to cocaine, weapons used by Ecuadorian gangs also arrive, some of which appear to have been stolen from Peruvian military arsenals. The Peruvian Minister of Defense, Jorge Chávez Cresta, has stated that there is no official information that confirms that the weapons used by criminals in Ecuador belong to the Peruvian Armed Forces, although an investigation has been opened in this regard. The Episcopal Conference of Ecuador has intervened regarding the dramatic situation in the country with a statement addressed "To all men and women of good will who live in Ecuador." “We are living in moments of anxiety in our country,” say the bishops. “Organized crime is sowing, in the daily lives of our lives, chaos and despair. Violence, wherever it comes from, must find us united, with an look towards the future and with the necessary strength for Ecuador to be what it has always been, a place of peace, of work, of fraternity.” “Let us not fall into the sterile panic that the game of the violent creates by giving credence to any alarmist image shared on social networks, nor into the naivety of lowering our arms believing that this fight belongs only to those who govern us,” the bishops exhort. “We are a country of faith. Since we were children we learned that we are all brothers calling God our father; We entrust to Him, once again, the integrity of every good Ecuadorian, and the stability of the State so that peace may return as soon as possible. In this 2024 in which we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the consecration of our country to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we commit ourselves to life and justice and ask Him to "save Ecuador". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 12/1/2024)