Although no more police have been killed since Tuesday, new explosions and incidents of random gunfire continue to be reported in four coastal provinces as criminal gangs react to to the relocation of hundreds of prisoners from Litoral Prison in Guayaquil. Inside Litoral, police say they have contained a riot on Wednesday and Thursday that left two inmates dead and a dozen guards injured.
Police report making more than 90 arrests since Tuesday with at least 10 connected to the death of five police officers. In addition, police say they have seized 27 firearms, 167,000 explosive devices, including hand grenades, as well as large quantities of cell phones and illegal drugs.
In addition to Guayaquil and Esmeraldas, new explosions were recorded Wednesday and Thursday in Santo Domingo and Manta. In Santo Domingo, the country’s fourth largest city, there were four explosions, two at gas stations, one behind a police station and another near a government building. No one was injured in the blasts that police described as “relatively small.”
In a Thursday video, President Guillermo Lasso said that the states of emergency in Guayas and Esmeraldas Provinces will be “enforced with the full authority of the police and the military,” and that they could be extended to other provinces if necessary. “So far, the terrorists are active in only four provinces and we expect to keep their activity contained in these areas.” In his comments, a large photo of Litoral Prison inmates stripped to the waist, lying on the ground, was displayed behind him. “The actions of the criminal gangs are carried out with the intention of terrorizing the public and we are shutting this down.”
Among the latest attacks was an explosion at an IESS health clinic in northwest Guayaquil. “This shows the desperation and violence of the attackers,” said Interior Minister Juan Zapata. “This is a center of health and peace. The terrorists will stop at nothing to disrupt the lives of Ecuadorians. This is a war against the state, against the country, therefore, we must support the National Police and the Armed Forces to give the people the peace they long for.”
According to Zapata, more than 2,500 police have been assigned to Guayaquil and Esmeraldas, with 1,200 situated in or near the Litoral Prison. In addition, at least 5,000 army troops are actively supporting the mission, with another 4,000 on standby status.
Lasso reacted angrily to accusations from members of the Union of Hope delegation in the National Assembly that he was responsible for the violence. “This is a crisis that has developed over the years, not one that began out of thin air two years ago,” he said. “Let’s not forget that it was during the [Rafael] Correa government that the drug gangs took control of the prisons. Isn’t it ironic that it is his supporters who now try to put the blame on my government.”
“This government does not give in to narco-terrorists and they are not going to impose their will. We will confront and defeat them and protect the 18 million Ecuadorians who deserve to live in peace,” Lasso added.
Several National Assembly members are urging Lasso to ask for foreign help in combating drug violence, suggesting that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has offered its services in the past.