Ecuadorian authorities have confirmed the release of 50 guards and seven police officers who were held hostage for over a day by criminal groups. The government described this incident as a response to its efforts to regain control of several large correctional facilities in the country. The National Service for Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty, responsible for the corrections system, stated that all 57 law enforcement officers held in six different prisons are now safe but did not provide specific details regarding their release.
In a series of attacks this week, criminal groups in Ecuador used explosives to damage a bridge, although no injuries were reported. Government officials have attributed these violent acts to criminal gangs with members in prisons, reacting to the authorities’ attempts to regain control by relocating inmates and seizing weapons. Within 48 hours, four car bombs and three explosive devices were detonated across the country.
Consuelo Orellana, the governor of Azuay province, reported that 44 hostages at a prison in Cuenca had been released, with the correction system later confirming the freedom of all 57 hostages. Security analyst Daniel Pontón described the events as a “systematic and clearly planned” attack, highlighting the state’s perceived ineffectiveness in preventing violence. Pontón suggested that these strikes aim to generate fear among the population and influence politics, particularly as Ecuador prepares for a presidential election runoff on October 15.
The recent wave of explosions began with a car bomb in Quito, followed by two more in El Oro province. Another vehicle exploded in Quito, and an explosive device went off in Cuenca. Authorities have arrested six individuals suspected of involvement in the capital blasts, while four suspects were apprehended in connection with the explosions in Napo province.
Ecuadorian authorities attribute the increase in violence over the past three years to a power vacuum created by the killing of Jorge Zambrano, also known as “Rasquiña” or “JL,” the leader of the local Los Choneros gang. These gangs, along with groups linked to Mexican and Colombian cartels, are engaged in territorial disputes and drug-trafficking routes, including within detention facilities where numerous inmate deaths have occurred since 2021.
Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, known for his tough stance on organized crime and corruption, was assassinated on August 9. He had accused Los Choneros and their imprisoned leader, Adolfo Macías, of threatening him and his campaign team. Six Colombian men have been detained in connection with Villavicencio’s killing.