The once-tranquil landscape of Ecuador is now marred by escalating gang violence, pushing President Daniel Noboa to declare an "armed internal conflict" and impose a state of emergency.
The recent turmoil, sparked by the escape of notorious gang leader Adolfo Macías Villamar, has seen unprecedented acts of violence, including armed assailants storming a TV studio.
The crisis unfolded on January 7, as police attempted to transfer "Fito" from La Regional prison to the supposedly safer La Roca. However, Fito had been tipped off and escaped, triggering riots in multiple prisons across Ecuador.
The power dynamics within these prisons, controlled by rival gangs, create a volatile environment, often resulting in deadly conflicts.
Ecuador's geographical position between major cocaine-producing countries, Colombia and Peru, has made it an attractive transit point for drug traffickers.
Transnational criminal groups, including Mexican cartels and Balkan gangs, exploit Ecuador's large ports on the Pacific coast, contributing to the rise of organised crime.
In response to the escalating violence, President Noboa declared a state of emergency, authorising the deployment of the armed forces to restore order.
A nationwide curfew was implemented, granting police extensive search powers to address the security crisis.
The gangs, defiant in the face of the state of emergency, retaliated by kidnapping a police officer and issuing a threatening statement.
President Noboa, acknowledging the severity of the situation, declared an "armed internal conflict" and identified 22 gangs as "terrorist organisations."
He emphasised a no-negotiation stance with the violent groups, signalling a determined effort to neutralise their impact.
The crisis presents a significant challenge for President Noboa, who assumed office just two months ago.
Elected on a promise to combat gang-related violence, he now faces the urgent task of quelling not only prison unrest but also the spillover of violence onto the streets of Ecuador's major cities.
The population, fearful and confined to their homes, awaits decisive action to restore order and peace.