Noboa says organized crime crackdown is ‘just beginning,’ warns judges and police of collaboration

Jan 10, 2024 | 0 comments

Although calm has returned to Ecuador’s major cities, President Daniel Noboa said Wednesday that his campaign against criminal groups is just beginning. “Make no mistake, this is an armed conflict against terrorist groups and the fight will not end until we restore the peace,” he said. “This fight will continue through the 60-day national emergency and beyond.”

National Police are making mass arrests of suspected gang members.

He blamed previous governments for taking a “lukewarm” approach to organized crime. “The wave of violence we are experiencing is no accident. It is the result of inaction in the past and it is now time to implement a strong and effective security plan,” he said in an interview on Quito’s Radio Canela.

Noboa said that mass arrests of individuals charged with crimes but not arrested has begun, saying that more 90 arrests have been made since Tuesday afternoon. “These people should have been in custody long ago, but they have remained on the street, committing acts of violence,” he said.

He added that identifying 21 criminal groups by name and labelling their members as “terrorists” provides added leverage for police and military personnel who assist them in making arrests.

The president had a special warning for public officials who collaborate with criminals. “If you are a judge, prosecutor, police officer or prison guard and provide assistance to members of criminal organizations, you too will be considered a terrorist and be prosecuted as such,” he said. He suggested “many more” arrests will soon be made of judges and other public officials, including elected officers. “We are cleaning house,” he said.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Diana Salazar announced that phase 2 of Operation Metastasis is nearing completion and that new arrests are imminent.

The president emphasized that the uprisings in six national prisons have not been put down. “Normality may have returned to our streets but the violence continues in the prisons,” said, noting that at least 135 guards and administrative personnel remain hostage in three prisons. “We are abiding by international humanitarian rules in the effort to free them but we will free them and punish those who have deprived them of freedom,” he said.

He said that his plan to construct two maximum security prisons is “well underway” and said the new facilities will allow the government to isolate gang leaders and other violent criminals. “The bosses will no longer be able to conduct their operations from prison comfortable cells,” Noboa said. “We will cut off their communication.”

He said the escape Sunday and Monday of the bosses of the powerful Los Lobos and Los Choneros gangs, Colón Pico and José Adolfo Macías, is an indication of their fear of being isolated at the La Roca prison in Guayaquil. “We will find and capture both of them and make sure their ability to conduct business with other criminals is eliminated forever,” Noboa said.

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