After the violent takeover of a media outlet and riots in prisons, Ecuador’s bishops issue a plea for peace, calm and order.
By Eduardo Campos Lima
(OSV News) — Amid an unprecedented wave of violence in Ecuador, the South American country’s bishops’ conference issued a statement on Jan. 9 asking the people to unite against the disturbance caused by criminal gangs, whose operations were defined as acts of “treason against the nation.”
The incidents began after José Adolfo Macías Villamar, the leader of the criminal gang Los Choneros escaped from prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s major economic hub. Riots erupted in several penal facilities and another drug lord escaped as well.
Since then, terrorist acts have been propagating in Quito and other cities, including car explosions and kidnappings. On Jan. 9, a number of armed men invaded a TV station and took control of it for hours during a live transmission until the police managed to get into the building and arrest the criminals.
In a continued wave of violence, schools and stores sat shuttered, many people stayed home and soldiers roamed the streets of Ecuador’s largest cities Jan. 10.
President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency and deployed troops to the streets of Quito. A curfew has also been in place.
“Organized crime has been seeding in our daily lives chaos and despair,” the bishops’ message read.
The bishops declared that Ecuadorians should stay united against violence and work to make their country a place “of peace, work, and fraternity again.”
The letter also asked the citizens to avoid panic and not to “believe in any scare-monger image shared on social media.”
“Every activity against the law, in any stance of society and of the State, must be considered an act of treason against the nation, against the most sacred values of our Ecuadorian identity, and against God, who will be the Judge of our lives,” it went on. The document concluded by saying that Ecuador is a country of faith and that its people trust that God will restore the stability of the State, and that “peace will return as soon as possible.”
The situation in the Andean country has been worsening over the past few years, with a growing perception that criminal gangs have been controlling drug trafficking from the prisons where their leaders are detained, affirmed Jesuit Father Carlos Man Ging, a Theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador.
“Over the past five years, we have been continually informed about the generalized chaos in the country’s prisons, where the drug lords have their headquarters and operate with support from the police and other segments of the State,” he told OSV News.
Riots have been constant in prisons in Guayaquil and other Ecuadorian cities lately, provoked by overcrowding, violation of rights, and generalized corruption.
“Everybody knew that was a growing problem. But no one could predict that we would get to a situation like that, with more than 20 great criminal gangs competing for power,” he added.
President Noboa tried to take control of the situation but quickly realized it was uncontrollable, Father Man Ging said.
“Noboa changed the staff in many prisons, but corruption has such deep roots that it didn’t work. Many segments in the State are involved in it, so it’s very difficult to transform that situation now,” the priest lamented.
The Church has been issuing statements to warn the Ecuadorian society of the dangers of the rising criminality and to ask for peace, but they couldn’t have much resonance.
“A Catholic citizen feels completely impotent before such a chaotic situation. At this very moment, all one can do is to protect him or herself and stay out of the streets, if possible,” Father Man Ging concluded, saying that the situation in Quito now resembles the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, with empty streets and only a few people circulating.
Featured image: Police forces in Ecuador are shown on Jan. 6, 2023. Ecuador is experiencing an alarming rise in criminal violence, including the murder of a presidential candidate last year. (Photo from the X account of the Ecuadorian police/Ecuador)