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Ecuador: State of emergency follows drug boss disappearance

January 9, 2024

Ecuador's new president has declared a 60-day state of emergency after a top drug gang leader vanished from prison. The move comes as the country is trying to tackle soaring levels of violence and crime.

Police leaving El Inca prison in Quito after security operation
Macias' disappearance has triggered prison riots, as here in QuitoImage: Karen Toro/REUTERS

Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency for 60 days on Monday, a day after Adolfo Macias, leader of the Los Choneros criminal gang, disappeared from the prison where he was serving a 34-year sentence.

Noboa did not mention Macias' possible escape in imposing the state of emergency, but said in an Instagram message that he won't stop until he "brings back peace to all Ecuadorians."

Police say at least four police officers have been kidnapped in Ecuador following the declaration, and unrest was reported at several prisons. 

Ecuador: Jailed crime boss vanishes

Who is Macias?

Macias, 44, known as "Fito,"  has been convicted of drug trafficking, murder and organized crime.

On the day of his disappearance, Sunday, he was scheduled to be transferred to a maximum security prison in the port city of Guayaquil from La Regional prison in the same city, where he was serving his sentence.

His gang, Los Choneros, is thought by authorities to be behind a surge in violence that reached a peak last year with the killing of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. The politician had said the group threatened him, but no charges have been brought against it or Macias over the killing.

Los Choneros is believed to be linked to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel.

Macias has succeeded once before, in February 2013, in escaping from a maximum security facility, but he was recaptured a few weeks later.

He is believed to have kept controlling his group from within the detention facility.

What does the state of emergency mean?

Under a state of emergency, the military can deploy onto the streets and into prisons.

A national nighttime curfew from 11:00 p.m. to 05:00 a.m. has also been imposed.

Noboa's predecessor, Guillermo Lasso, often used states of emergency as a way to confront the wave of violence that has affected the South American country.

Noboa himself, who took over in November, has said his government's main objective is to reduce violence.

tj/wmr (Reuters, AP, AFP)