Ecuador says 57 guards and police officers are released after being held hostage in several prisons

by Ryan Lee
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Hostage Release

Ecuadorian authorities have announced the successful release of a total of 57 law enforcement officers, comprising 50 guards and seven police officers, who had been held hostage for a period exceeding one day. This incident occurred as a response from criminal organizations to the government’s ongoing efforts aimed at reasserting control over various large correctional facilities situated within the South American nation.

The National Service for Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty, responsible for Ecuador’s corrections system, issued a statement confirming the safety of the released officers. However, the details surrounding the manner of their release were not provided in the statement.

In recent developments, criminal groups within Ecuador employed explosive devices to cause damage to a bridge, marking the latest occurrence in a series of attacks spanning the week. It’s worth noting that no casualties were reported as a result of this explosion.

Government officials have attributed these acts of violence to criminal gangs operating from within prisons. These gangs are purportedly responding to the authorities’ initiatives, including the relocation of inmates, confiscation of weapons, and other strategic measures, all aimed at regaining control of the penitentiaries.

Over the course of less than 48 hours, four car bombs and three explosive devices were detonated across the country. In the most recent instance, dynamite was employed in an explosion on a bridge connecting two cities within the coastal province of El Oro. National Police commander Luis García confirmed this incident.

Earlier, a domestic gas tank outfitted with dynamite detonated beneath a separate bridge located in the Napo province of Napo, an area situated within Ecuador’s section of the Amazon rainforest.

Consuelo Orellana, the governor of Azuay province, reported the release of 44 hostages from a prison in Cuenca, a city within Ecuador. Subsequently, the country’s correctional system confirmed the freedom of all 57 hostages.

Security analyst Daniel Pontón characterized the sequence of events, which occurred three weeks after the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, as a meticulously planned and systematic assault. Pontón highlighted the state’s perceived ineffectiveness in preventing such acts of violence.

Pontón speculated on the motives behind these attacks, suggesting that they are intended to generate fear within the population and wield influence over the political landscape. Notably, Ecuador is approaching its presidential runoff vote scheduled for October 15.

Pontón cautioned against a potential escalation of violence due to the perceived lack of state competence, which could lead to attacks targeting the civilian population. This scenario, according to Pontón, is both predictable and alarming.

The series of explosive incidents commenced on Wednesday evening with a car bomb detonation in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, in the vicinity of a former office belonging to the country’s corrections system. Subsequently, two more car bombs were detonated in El Oro province, located in the southwestern part of the country.

Another vehicle explosion occurred in Quito the following day, targeting the current offices of the corrections system. Additionally, an explosive device was activated in Cuenca, located in the Andes mountains of southern Ecuador. A judge ordered the detention of six individuals suspected of involvement in the explosions that transpired in the capital. This decision came amid ongoing investigations.

Fausto Martínez, the police commander, announced the apprehension of four suspects linked to the explosions in Napo. Among them were three adults and one minor, who were arrested while traveling in a taxi containing blocks of dynamite already synchronized with a slow-burning fuse. This discovery prompted law enforcement to conduct controlled detonations.

Ecuadorian authorities have attributed the surge in violence over the past three years to a power vacuum resulting from the 2020 assassination of Jorge Zambrano, also known as “Rasquiña” or “JL,” the leader of the local Los Choneros gang.

These criminal organizations, including Los Choneros and similar groups affiliated with Mexican and Colombian cartels, are engaged in territorial disputes and competition for drug-trafficking routes. This struggle extends to detention facilities, where authorities have reported at least 400 inmate deaths since 2021.

Gang members affiliated with these groups are implicated in activities such as contract killings, extortion operations, drug distribution, and exerting control within prison environments.

Fernando Villavicencio, the slain presidential candidate, was known for his uncompromising stance against organized crime and corruption. Despite being under the protection of police and bodyguards, he was assassinated on August 9 following a political rally in Quito.

Villavicencio had previously accused Los Choneros and their imprisoned leader, Adolfo Macías, known as “Fito,” of issuing threats against him and his campaign team in the days preceding his assassination.

In connection with Villavicencio’s murder, authorities have detained six Colombian individuals suspected of involvement in the crime.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hostage Release

What led to the hostage situation involving law enforcement officers in Ecuador?

Criminal groups within Ecuador responded to the government’s efforts to regain control of correctional facilities, leading to the hostage situation.

How many law enforcement officers were held hostage and for how long?

A total of 57 officers, comprising 50 guards and seven police officers, were held hostage for over a day before being released.

Were there any casualties during the explosive attacks orchestrated by criminal groups?

No casualties were reported as a result of the explosive attacks carried out by criminal groups, including the detonation of car bombs and explosive devices.

What factors contributed to the rise in violence in Ecuador over the past three years?

The surge in violence is attributed to a power vacuum resulting from the assassination of Jorge Zambrano, the leader of the Los Choneros gang, in 2020.

How have criminal organizations been involved in the violence and conflict in Ecuador?

Criminal organizations, such as Los Choneros and similar groups linked to Mexican and Colombian cartels, are engaged in territorial disputes, drug trafficking, and control within prisons.

What was the significance of the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio?

Fernando Villavicencio, known for his tough stance on organized crime, was assassinated despite police protection. He accused Los Choneros of threats before his death.

What is the broader context of violence and its impact on Ecuadorian society?

The violence has generated fear among the population and influenced political dynamics. The attacks highlight concerns about the state’s ability to prevent such incidents.

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