Explosions and killings follow decision to relocate hundreds of gang members from Guayaquil prison
At least three police officers are dead and several more are injured following attacks on police vehicles and headquarters Monday night and Tuesday in Guayaquil. Attacks on police facilities included at least three explosions as well as drive-by shootings.
The violence followed a decision by prison officials to remove 400 to 500 suspected gang members from Guayaquil’s Litoral Prison to a prison in Manabí Province.
Late Tuesday, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in Guayas and Esmeraldas Provinces, imposing a dusk ‘til dawn curfew in many neighborhoods. The order also puts thousands of military personnel on the streets of Guayaquil and Esmeraldas.
According to Interior Minister Juan Zapata, the violence was carried out by three criminal gangs, Los Choneros, Los Lobos and Los Tiguerones. “They are upset we are removing their imprisoned gang leaders from Guayaquil,” he said. “Now, these violent men will be kept in isolation at the El Rodeo facility in Portoviejo and will be unable to communicate with other gang members. We believe the violence in the streets was ordered by Mexican cartels, who control the gangs.”
He added that the transferred gang leaders were coordinating drug shipments and arms sales from Litoral. “Our investigations found the many of these people were running large-scale illegal activities from the prison.”
Beginning at dawn Tuesday, dozens of buses transported inmates from the Litoral Prison. Family members and friends of the prisoners attempted to block the buses on several occasions but police cleared the exit from the prison.
Of the three dead police officers, two were shot in their vehicle while another was gunned down on a motorcycle. At least three others died of gunshot wounds but have not been identified. Following the murders, police headquarters were bombed in Las Orquídeas, Guamote and Alborada. Other explosions were set off at two gas stations, the bus station in Pascuales and in the Prosperina. The Ministry said there were three explosions in Emeraldas.
In a Monday statement purportedly released by the Los Lobos leadership, the gang threatened “days of terror” if imprisoned gang members were removed from Litoral. “If they move our people, we will decree 3 days of armed strike,” the statement issued on social media and in brochures said. “This is not intended to frighten the Ecuadorian people. It is directed at the government. If you touch our comrades in pavilions 8 and 9 at Litoral, we will respond with all our logistical power and all our war weapons.”
Zapata said the prisoner transfer to El Rodeo was the result of “credible information” that a new prison riot was planned for Litoral. “This was an action taken to protect prisoners who are not involved in gang conflict as well as the public in general,” he said.
The U.S Embassy issued an alert Tuesday night that its staff should exercise “extreme caution” in Guayaquil and Esmeraldas. “Transnational and local criminal gangs are carrying out a series of violent crimes in these locations and we urge all embassy and consulate personnel to use extreme caution while traveling in these areas and to avoid nighttime travel if at all possible.”