Despite a weekend of coastal murders, the state of emergency is due to expire next week

Apr 2, 2024 | 0 comments

Government Minister Mónica Palencia said the state of emergency that has been in effect since January 8 will end next week. “Under our constitutional mandate, we cannot extend the emergency beyond April 7,” she said. “This does not mean, however, that we will relax our pursuit of criminal gangs or our efforts to restore peace to our citizens.”

Police investigate a suspected gang-related shooting Saturday night in Guayaquil.

Palencia said that the armed forces will continue to assist police. “We are exploring measures to keep the military in the streets and prisons and believe this can be accomplished within the legal framework.”

Two weeks ago, she suggested the military’s constitutional role of firearms control allows it to work jointly with police since most law enforcement operations involve illegal firearms. She also pointed out that the end of the emergency period is not the end of the state of internal armed conflict that President Noboa declared on January 9. “Under that declaration, the government can continue the use of the armed forces to combat the threat.”

The pending end of the emergency follows a deadly weekend in Manabi and Guayas Provinces, as 18 people died in gang-related violence.

On Friday night, police say a group of about 20 men kidnapped 11 people, six adults and five children, from a Puerto Lopez hotel. The kidnappers bound and gagged the victims, took them to a remote area south of town where five of the adults were shot and killed.

Police believe the crime was a case of mistaken identity and those kidnapped were tourists unrelated to gang activity. Two suspects have been arrested and are said to be cooperating with the investigation.

On Saturday, eight people are killed and another eight injured in a suspected gang attack in the El Guasmo neighborhood of Guayaquil. Police say the attackers, who arrived in open trucks, fired long rifles into a crowd at a volleyball match. Many of the victims had criminal records and were believed associated with gangs, police said.

Two other gang-related killings during the Easter holiday weekend are being investigated in Manta.

In her Monday press conference, Palencia defended the government’s response to national emergency. “From the beginning of the emergency until the middle of March, murders dropped by more than 50%, from more than 200 a week to less than 100,” she said. “Yes, the terrible events, such the ones this weekend in Puerto Lopez, Manta and Guayaquil continue, but we have made serious progress. The organized crime and drug trafficking we confront today was years in development and it will not be overcome in three months.”

She added that corrupt public officials play a large role in the “epidemic” of crime. “The arrests in the Mestastisis and Purge cases are essential for controlling crime, including the murders,” Palencia said. “There is rot inside our institutions, our courts, our police, and our prisons, that must be rooted out.”

On Tuesday morning, police reported 137 murders were recorded during the week ending March 30, the most since the national emergency was declared.

Palencia criticized those who claim Plan Fenix, the government’s campaign against criminal gangs, is a failure. “There are those who, for political reasons, want our efforts to fail, but we will not fail,” she said. “The numbers demonstrate the progress we have made and we will not back down from this fight.”

She added that new national emergencies could be declared in the future if circumstances warrant.

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