ECUADOR has declared a state of emergency after brutal violence erupted between drug cartels vying for control of lucrative cocaine trafficking routes into Spain and Europe worth billions.
The young president, Daniel Noboa, 36, declared a state of ‘internal armed conflict’ and unleashed the country’s military against more than 20 gangs, officially declared terrorist groups.
The chain of escalating violence began with the escape of Ecuador’s most dangerous criminal after his cartel henchmen busted him out of jail.
José Adolfo Macías Villamar, alias Fito,? is the leader of Los Choneros, a group which works for the notorious Mexican Sinaloa cartel.
Another escapee, Fabricio Colón Pico of Los Lobos, is linked to the rival Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
However, the turmoil only came to global attention when masked men broke onto the set of a public television channel in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, on Monday.
Guayaquil is also a major cartel hub and a critical node in global cocaine trafficking supply chains heading to the US, Europe, and increasingly Asia and Australia.
Fully masked and armed with explosive and machine guns, the attackers forced the television presenters and production crew onto the floor during a live broadcast.
Although no one was killed in the shocking raid, at least 10 people have been killed in related attacks blamed on armed gangs working for the cartels.
It has led to a 60-day nightly curfew as the Ecuadorian military struggles to regain control of the country – unbelievably the 20th time in just over two years a state of emergency has been enacted.
The violence is directly related to the monumental quantities of cocaine being smuggled into Europe through Spanish ports like Valencia, Algeciras, and Barcelona, as well as Rotterdam and Antwerp in the north.
The overproduction in South America and success of the smugglers getting it into Europe has seen the price of cocaine in Spain almost halve, from around €33,000 per kilo to €18,000.
Over 300 tonnes of cocaine were seized by EU Member States in 2021, a record at the time but expected to be smashed by the figures for 2023 when they are released.
Ecuador is sandwiched between Peru and Colombia, the two largest producers of cocaine feeding Europe’s market, which was worth €10.5 billion in 2020 according to Europol.
Its Pacific coast ports are often the first step in transporting the drug wholesale from its point of origin to the final destinations in developed countries around the world.
This has transformed the historically peaceful country into a strategic location for the cartels and resulted in Ecuador ‘ending 2023 with the highest murder rate in Latin America,’ according to the country’s former foreign minister Guillaume Long.