Freedom at Last: The Release of Ecuadorian Hostages from Detention Centers


The release of all hostages who were detained in Ecuadorian jails has been authorized by President Daniel Noboa. In a successful joint operation with the National Police and the Armed Forces, all personnel and guards held captive by inmates in prisons across seven different regions were freed. This significant development comes after President Noboa was targeted by drug trafficking organizations earlier last week.

The State Agency in charge of prisons, known as SNAI, confirmed the release of detainees from provinces spanning the length of Ecuador, from the northern border with Colombia to the southern border with Peru. President Noboa personally verified the release, ensuring the safety and liberation of all hostages.

Videos shared on social media showcased the gratitude expressed by prison guards who were freed. In one video, a prison guard proudly displayed the Ecuadorian flag as he stood before his fellow guards in Cotopaxi, a detention facility in the southern Andean region. Another video captured a guard uttering a heartfelt “thank you” after his release on Saturday.

Initially, 41 individuals, including 24 guards and 17 workers, were released on Saturday through collaborative efforts with the Catholic Church. However, as of that time, 133 guards and 3 administrative staff members were still being held captive. It is important to note that other individuals had already been granted their freedom.

The number of captives initially reported by the jail administration stood at 178 on Thursday before the release operation took place. Ecuador has become a base for approximately 20 criminal organizations, who have used the jails as a means to exert fear and enforce their brutal rule. The recent onslaught of violence is being viewed as a retaliation against the Noboa government’s strict measures against these organizations.

The situation further escalated when one of the most notorious drug trafficking tycoons, Adolfo Macías, also known as “Fito” and the leader of the criminal faction “Los Choneros,” went missing from a jail in Guayaquil. This triggered a crisis that has been ongoing since 2021, resulting in nearly 460 deaths among prisoners. The wave of violence following Fito’s escape included prison riots, attacks on employees and guards, kidnappings of police officers, mass inmate escapes, explosive incidents, and vehicle burnings.

The National Service for Comprehensive Assistance to Persons Deprived of Liberty (SNAI) has promised to hold those responsible for the events in the prisons accountable. Over the course of the past week, the violence has claimed the lives of 19 individuals, including a guard who died as a result of fighting with detainees in El Oro province. Additionally, 1,105 inmates have been confined, eight “terrorists” have been shot, two police officers have been murdered, and twenty-seven inmates have been recaptured.

To address the escalating crisis, a six-hour curfew has been implemented across the country from 11 pm local time. A state of exception, lasting for 60 days, has also been put into effect, extending its influence to the jails as well. The hunt for Adolfo Macías continues, with hundreds of troops and police actively participating in the search. There are suspicions that Fito has crossed into Colombia, which is known for having the largest coca fields in the world.

In the face of mounting faction pressure and violence against the state, President Noboa remains resolute and determined not to back down. In a recent interview with the BBC, he declared, “I believe that we will win and I will not stop fighting until we do.” Drug lords, from their criminal offices in jails, oversee the drug trade, orchestrate assassinations, manage the profits from their crimes, and engage in deadly power struggles with rival factions.

For a long time, Ecuador provided a safe haven for drug trafficking. However, in recent years, criminal gangs in the country have united to challenge the state and establish control over the area. Consequently, Ecuador has now become a new stronghold for drug trafficking operations targeting the United States and Europe. This has resulted in a soaring murder rate, going from 6 per 100,000 people in the past five years to 46 in 2023. The situation has sparked internal conflict akin to what Colombia experienced a century ago, adding to the already uncontrolled environment within prisons.

President Noboa’s administration has devised a plan to construct two “super-maximum” prisons with a combined capacity of nearly 3,000. These facilities will be dedicated to housing the most dangerous offenders. Additionally, he has advocated for the creation of prison ships to alleviate the overcrowding and security concerns within the existing prison system.

In a major escalation of their drug trafficking campaign, the criminal factions targeted a live-streamed television station on Tuesday, causing a significant stir and consequences both domestically and internationally. The situation remains incredibly precarious, with President Noboa and law enforcement agencies tirelessly working to regain control, ensure the safety of the population, and dismantle the criminal organizations plaguing the country.