Headless Bodies and Deadly Bombs: Gang Violence Escalates in Ecuador | Ecuador

The week began with the discovery of two headless bodies left hanging from a pedestrian bridge. Then prison guards were taken hostage by inmates, nine car bombs were detonated in two coastal towns and five policemen were shot dead.

The series of gruesome attacks across Ecuador this week would once have been unthinkable, but this kind of bloodshed is now becoming almost routine in the Andean country, as gang violence reaches levels never seen before.

Late Tuesday, President Guillermo Lasso announced a 9 p.m. curfew as part of a new state of emergency in the affected regions of Guayas and Esmeraldas. He called the violent incidents a “declaration of open war” and said he was “ready to act tough”.

He said soldiers and police had raided prisons and seized weapons, ammunition, explosives and phones.

Analysts say criminal gangs emboldened by lucrative ties to Mexico’s drug cartels are using terror tactics to intimidate authorities and civilians as the country of nearly 18 million people is on the verge of becoming a narco- State.

Ecuadorian Interior Minister Juan Zapata said the two officers shot dead on Tuesday “lost their lives at the hands of organized crime”. Two other police officers were injured in another attack on a police station.

“This year has been very sad and tragic for the National Police,” Zapata said. “With these two cases, we now have 61 fallen police heroes in the line of duty.”

The latest series of attacks reportedly came in response to the transfer of detainees from the Litoral prison in Guayaquil, the scene of the attack worst prison massacre in the country’s history last year, which claimed at least 119 lives.

The latest bloodshed comes just months after a deadly bomb attack killed at least five people and injured 17 people in Guayaquil, marking an escalation in terrorist tactics against civilians and sparking a fourth state of emergency in the city torn apart by violence.

“In some areas the state has been displaced,” said Col. Mario Pazmiño, Ecuador’s former director of military intelligence, referring to parts of Guayaquil and Ecuador’s Pacific coast. “We are talking about a criminal regime with this new escalation in the level of violence.

More than 400 detainees have been killed – many burned to death or beheaded – since February 2021 in an explosive rise in killings as rival gangs fight for control lucrative cocaine trafficking routes to the United States and Europe.

Ecuador – located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two largest cocaine-producing countries – is a strategic smuggling route due to its long Pacific coastline and large shipping and fishing fleets.

Analysts say the peak of violence began when local criminal gangs began to compete for work with rival Mexican drug cartels Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation.

In the first eight months of this year, there were 2,785 violent deaths in Ecuador, a 10 year record which has already exceeded the total number of murders in 2021, according to police figures. About two-thirds of these deaths occurred in coastal regions.

The rate almost doubled in 2021 to 14 per 100,000 population and reached 18 per 100,000 between January and October this year.

Luis, 42, a hydraulic parts dealer in Guayaquil, the coastal city that has been the epicenter of the violence, said he was afraid to leave his house because criminals lurked around the corner.

“You can’t leave the house at night. It’s really difficult,” he said. “Every day there are more criminals, you don’t even want to take a taxi,” he added.

He also distrusted the police, believing like many Ecuadorians that the institution had been penetrated by drug trafficking.

As for the government’s response, he replied, “It’s really lukewarm. Trying to impose a curfew, [the criminals] just gonna laugh in your face.

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