41 Hostage Prison Workers Freed in Ecuador, 136 Still Captive

Ecuador/Handout via REUTERS
Inmates lie on the floor after Ecuador’s police and armed forces freed prison staff members who had been held hostage by the prisoners, in Ambato, Ecuador, in this Handout picture made available on January 13, 2024.

More than 40 Ecuador prison officials taken hostage by inmates have been freed, the prisons authority said Saturday, as the country grapples with a brutal campaign of gang terror.

The 24 guards and 17 administrative employees had been “released,” the SNAI prisons agency said without providing details, while 133 guards and three employees continue to be held hostage.

The workers were taken captive after President Daniel Noboa this week launched a military takedown of criminal groups, sparking a deadly confrontation with narco gangs in the South American nation.

The crisis was triggered by the escape from Guayaquil prison of one of the country’s most powerful narco bosses, Jose Adolfo Macias, known by the alias “Fito.”

His escape was followed by prison riots, hostage-taking and attacks on the police.

More than 22,000 troops have been deployed to carry out land, air and sea patrols. Authorities were raiding prisons, and a curfew was in place.

At least 19 people have died in the violence, SNAI said, including a guard killed Saturday in clashes with inmates in El Oro near the border with Peru.

There were “armed clashes” at the southwestern Machala prison, while army and police raided detention centers in six cities to “restore order and normality.”

Escape from Guayaquil

At least five inmates escaped Friday evening from the vast Guayaquil prison complex, with two of them caught shortly afterward during a search operation, police sources said.

Soon after their escape, two helicopters and drones were seen flying over the surroundings of the huge prison, on the northern outskirts of the city.

Dozens of police officers supported by soldiers patrolled around the prison, where Ecuador’s most dangerous criminals are held.

Once a bastion of peace situated between major cocaine producers, Ecuador has been plunged into crisis after years of growing control by transnational cartels that use its ports to ship the drug to the United States and Europe.

Criminal gangs in the country of about 17 million people are thought to have more than 20,000 members.

According to the latest official report, 859 suspects have been arrested, 25 escaped detainees have been recaptured, five “terrorists” shot dead and 57 kidnapped people have been released.

A chilling video filmed in Machala prison and confirmed by police shows the corpse of a prisoner wrapped in plastic thrown into the street from inside the jail, which is under the control of inmates.

Other images have emerged over the past days showing arrested suspected gang members being ridiculed, forced to sing, hitting each other or being mistreated by soldiers.