Protesters block Cajas highway, hold hostages; Gang leader ‘Fat Louie’ recaptured; Banana industry braces for El Niño; Shark attack victim treated

Jul 7, 2023 | 4 comments

Residents of Molleturo blockaded the Cuenca-Molleturo- El Empalme highway late Thursday night and are holding four Ministry of Transportation technicians captive. Protesters are demanding the government fulfill commitments made to repair and maintain the highway through the Cajas mountains 18 months ago.

The highway, which connects Cuenca and Guayaquil, has experienced a series of landslides since early 2022, forcing repeated closures. Construction of a bypass near the slide area has been ongoing for almost a year.

Residents of Molleturo blocked traffic on the highway connecting Cuenca and Guayaquil late Thursday night. They are holding two Transportation Ministry employees hostage.

At 2 a.m. Friday morning, Homero Chuñir, spokesman for protesters said the highway would not be reopened or the Ministry employees released until machinery is moved to the area to resume work near the entry of Molleturo. “We have been lied to again and again and work deadlines have been missed with no explanation from the government,” he said.

Early Friday morning, Azuay Province Governor Consuelo Orellana was en route to Molleturo to talk to protesters.

Los Lobos Gang leader ‘Fat Louie’ captured again
Luis Arboleda, alias ‘Gordo Luis’, the leader of the Los Lobos criminal gang, was captured Thursday in Colombia and handed over to Ecuadorian authorities at the Rumichaca Bridge in Carchi.

Arboleda was arrested in Ecuador in December, charged with murder, torture and extortion. In March, a Manabí provincial judge ordered his release based on technicalities involving his arrest and concern for his health. The judge, Byron Orejuela, was subsequently suspended by a judicial review board for “inappropriate application of the law.”

Following Arboleda’s handover to Ecuadorian police, Interior Minister Juan Zapata said the prisoner would not go free again. “We ask the justice system to act diligently so that the subject pays the full price for the horrendous crimes he has committed. It is my hope that he is not released again,” he said.

Zapata added that the Los Lobos gang, which Arboleda commands, is one of the largest drug trafficking organizations in Ecuador and is responsible for dozens of murders. “Los Lobos operates throughout the coastal region, concentrating in Guayaquil, Manta and Esmeraldas,” he said. “The gang has also been the instigator of riots in our prisons.”

Arboleda was arrested in Pasto, Colombia.

Galapagos shark attack victim flown to Guayaquil
A Mexican tourist bitten by a shark Wednesday while snorkeling in Galapagos Islands waters has been flown to a hospital in Guayaquil for treatment. The attack occurred near the islet of Mosquera and the victim was first taken to a clinic on Santa Cruz. According to doctors, the woman was bitten on the leg and the wound is not life threatening.

According to the doctor who treated the woman, shark attacks in the Galapagos are extremely rare. “This is the first case we have treated in four years,” said Carla Reinoso. She added that there is no record of a fatal attacks in the islands.

Banana production threatened by El Niño
Ecuador’s Association of Banana Growers is warning that it faces the loss of up to 125,000 productive acres (50,000 hectares) due to the impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon. The banana industry has endured three years of major complications, the association says, due to the Covid pandemic, high maritime freight rates and the war in Ukraine.

Leonidas Estrada, president of the Corporation of Ecuadorian Banana Growers, said the weather forecast points to a “high intensity” El Niño, comparable to the 1997-1998 event that destroyed most of the country’s banana crop. “We are taking all preventive measures possible but if the rains are as heavy as forecasters predict, we will not be able to stop the floods.”

Estrada said the estimate of 125,000 at-risk acres is based on the experience of 1997 and 1998. “History tells us the extent of the devastations we must be prepared for.”

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