Ecuador has been plunged into chaos after the country’s most-wanted gang leader vanished from his jail cell, triggering violent riots across prisons and forcing the government to declare a nationwide state of emergency.
Notorious Gang Boss Goes Missing From Prison
José ‘Fito’ Macías, leader of Los Choneros, Ecuador’s most powerful and dangerous organized crime gang, disappeared from Litoral Penitentiary in the city of Guayaquil sometime between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, according to authorities.
Macías, 37, was serving a 27-year sentence for drug and weapons trafficking. He took control of Los Choneros in 2021 from inside prison and expanded its operations across Ecuador and internationally.
The gang boss had been held in a maximum security area of Litoral prison with other high-profile inmates. His disappearance was only noticed when breakfast was distributed on Sunday morning.
Authorities Launch Manhunt As Questions Mount
A massive manhunt has been launched to find Macías, with Ecuador’s police chief Fausto Salinas tweeting “we will recapture him whatever it takes.” Air and land borders have been closed to prevent his escape abroad.
But serious questions remain over how such a high-profile prisoner could simply vanish without a trace. Critics have alleged complicity of prison authorities and blasted the government for failing to address the growing power of gangs behind bars.
“This is not an escape, it is a release,” said lawyer Julio Cesar Sarango. “How is it possible for the National Service of Comprehensive Attention to Adults Deprived of Liberty to allow the escape of such dangerous prisoners?”
According to local reports, the prison guard on duty outside Macías’ cell at the time of his disappearance is missing and authorities have failed to locate him to question how the escape was possible.
Riots Erupt in Prisons Across Ecuador
Within hours of Macías’ disappearance being revealed, riots and violence erupted in detention centers across Ecuador.
Inmates in various prisons revolted, burned mattresses, and took guards hostage in what officials described as coordinated nationwide protests demanding improved conditions and early release for gang members. Those holding guards hostage included members of Los Chonerors gang, authorities confirmed.
|Details of Unrest
|Inmates hold 10 guards hostage, broadcast messages from prison rooftop
|El Inca prison
|Police storm facility to regain control, 8 guards held hostage
|Guards taken hostage, military seizes control after 2 hours
Police special forces have stormed multiple prisons to free captive staff. But disturbances are still ongoing, with guards remaining held hostage in some facilities at time of writing.
“This was a coordinated destabilization across the whole prison system,” said President Guillermo Lasso in a televised national address Sunday night, vowing to fully retake control.
State of Emergency Declared Across Ecuador
Due to the scale of the prison riots, President Lasso declared a nationwide 60-day state of emergency late on Sunday.
The decree suspends some civil liberties and allows authorities to deploy police and soldiers inside prisons. It also imposes an overnight curfew on residents across Ecuador between 10pm and 5am to prevent gang violence or turmoil spilling onto the streets.
In an attempt to curb the rapidly escalating crisis, Lasso said security forces have full authorization to “use force to restore peace.” Hundreds of troops have been seen deploying around detention facilities still gripped by unrest.
But human rights organizations accused the President of overreach and said the state of emergency seemed “disproportionate”, questioning whether it would solve the complex issues around gang power behind bars.
Next Steps: Retaking Prison Control and Capturing Fito
Ecuadorian authorities now face the daunting challenge on two main fronts:
Regaining Control in Prisons
Police tactical units are still attempting to storm prisons where guards remain held hostage and inmates control areas. But even once freed, officials admit it will be difficult to fully exert control and clamp down on the organized gang power structures operating with near-impunity.
Improving conditions and stopping inmate violence has long plagued Ecuador’s broken prison system, which houses 39,000 people in space intended for 30,000. Rampant overcrowding and poor living standards have exacerbated tensions. Rights groups argue only systemic reform and rehabilitation programs can resolve the crisis.
Capturing Fito Macías
With Macías still at large somewhere in Ecuador or potentially abroad, capturing the dangerous fugitive is the top priority for security services.
But the gang leader has evaded police for years and has many resources and hideouts across the country. Officials remain unsure even how he escaped jail in the first place – through a tunnel, weapons smuggled in, or simple walking out the front door.
With his powerful Los Choneros network, Macías also likely has huge wealth and connections enabling him to hide potentially indefinitely. Sources say he could seek to leave Ecuador, although strict border checks remain in place.
In his speech, President Lasso sent a firm warning to Macías: “Where are you going to hide from the law? We will capture you”. Police are analyzing all leads and reported sightings, eager to ensure his time on the run remains short-lived. But his recapture remains shrouded in uncertainty.
The dramatic disappearance of Ecuador’s most notorious gangster has thrust the country into disarray and presented huge immediate challenges around restoring order and security. But reigning in the growing power of organized crime, eliminating violence and fixing broken prisons will require sustained long-term reform efforts by Ecuador’s government and forces on all fronts.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.