Ecuador president claims country is at war with criminal groups amid surge in violence

Ecuador President Daniel Noboa told radio station Canela Radio on Wednesday that Ecuador was “in a state of war” with criminal groups that have held prison officers hostage. He also said that the country was in an internal armed conflict and fighting for peace against the criminal groups.

Noboa previously declared a state of emergency on Monday for sixty days after Adolfo Macías, the leader of one of the most powerful gangs in Ecuador, escaped from prison the day before. A series of violent attacks, such as riots in prison, broke out across the country after his escape. The state of emergency suspends the right of assembly and gives the army impunity to control internal security.

Noboa then declared on Tuesday that the country was in an “internal armed conflict” against groups associated with Macías after armed gunmen took hostages on live TV. He issued an executive order identifying 22 organized crime groups as “terrorist organizations and belligerent non-state actors.”

On Wednesday, Noboa said that Ecuador’s government was combating the violence and insecurity in the country. He reiterated that organized crime groups were military targets and that the government could confront the groups as terrorists. In addition, he said that the government needs to increase transparency and seek international allies. He also stated that complicit judges would be investigated and prosecuted.

Ecuador has seen increasing violence since 2020. On January 3, Noboa announced plans to implement a national referendum that would enforce stricter anti-crime laws and tighten security measures to reduce violence in Ecuador. On August 23, 2023, the UN expressed concern over violence against justice officials in Ecuador. UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Margaret Satterthwaite urged authorities to ensure that judges and prosecutors in Ecuador receive sufficient protection.