Ecuadorian authorities have announced that 57 officials who were taken hostage by inmates in six prisons across the country have been released. The hostage crisis was part of a wave of violence that also involved four car bomb explosions in Quito and El Oro province.
The officials, including 50 prison guards and seven police officers, were held captive for more than a day by criminal groups who were protesting against the transfer of some inmates and the confiscation of weapons inside the prisons. The hostages were freed after negotiations with the government and are undergoing medical evaluation.
The violence erupted on Wednesday night, when two car bombs detonated near buildings belonging to the prison system in Quito. Two more car bombs exploded on Thursday in El Oro, near the border with Peru. Three more grenade attacks and a bridge explosion were also reported in the capital. No casualties were reported from the blasts, but several vehicles and buildings were damaged.
The government said the attacks were a show of force by drug trafficking gangs who are fighting for control of territory and prison facilities. The situation has worsened since the killing of Jorge Zambrano, alias “Rasquina” or “JL”, the leader of the Los Choneros gang, in 2020.
The violence also comes amid a tense political climate, following the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio three weeks ago. Villavicencio was known for his tough stance on organized crime and corruption. Six Colombians accused of his murder were among the inmates who were relocated to avoid gang clashes.
President Guillermo Lasso, who declared a 60-day state of emergency for the prisons in July, condemned the attacks and vowed to restore order and security. He said several people have been arrested in connection with the explosions and the hostage-taking. He also thanked the international community for its support and solidarity.