Ecuador Declares State of Emergency as Notorious Cartel Leader Escapes, Sparking Security Crisis

President Noboa Takes Drastic Measures to Quell Rising Violence and Reassert Control in the Wake of Notorious Drug Lord's Breakout.

Ecuador faced a major security crisis as President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency on Monday in response to the escape of José Adolfo Macías Villamar, the infamous leader of the Los Choneros drug cartel, widely known as “Fito.” The daring prison break in Guayaquil has heightened fears and intensified the struggle to contain the ongoing criminal turf war.

Authorities reported that over 3,000 police officers and armed forces members have been deployed to track down Fito, emphasizing the urgency of the situation. The state of emergency, set to last for 60 days, includes a nightly curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., providing security forces with enhanced political and legal support for their actions, as announced by President Noboa on Monday.

In a video statement, President Noboa asserted, “The time is over when drug trafficking convicts, hitmen, and organized crime dictate to the government what to do.” Notably, he did not directly address Fito’s escape but emphasized the need to confront the challenges posed by criminal elements.

Regional 8 prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador
Regional 8 prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador

President Noboa, who assumed office in November, acknowledged the deteriorating security situation, particularly in Ecuador’s prison system, which he declared had been “lost in recent years.” The president authorized security forces to regain control of the restive prison system, aiming to address the deep-rooted issues contributing to the current crisis.

Once hailed as an “island of peace,” Ecuador’s strategic location between major cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia, has made it a key transit point for drug traffickers. Fueled by its deep ports and dollarized economy, the nation has become a hotspot for drug transit and money laundering activities.

Fito, sentenced to 34 years in prison in 2011 for crimes including drug trafficking and murder, adds a notorious chapter to the ongoing challenges faced by Ecuador. Analysts suggest that Ecuadorian gangs, such as the Choneros, collaborate with foreign syndicates, including Mexican cartels, Brazilian urban gangs, and Albanian mafia cells, contributing to the country’s persistent conflicts.

José Adolfo Macías Villamar also known as Fito- Cartel leader
José Adolfo Macías Villamar also known as Fito

Authorities accuse the Choneros of controlling Ecuador‘s main prisons, often turning them into centers of violence. Overcrowded prisons pose a significant challenge for security forces, as inmates exert control and run criminal networks from behind bars. Following Fito’s escape, incidents were reported in at least six prisons across different provinces, further highlighting the complexity of the security situation.

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