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Ecuador's president declares a state of 'internal armed conflict'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ecuador is descending into crisis. Drug gangs terrorize that South American country. The murder rate has soared. And Ecuador just had an especially bloody week. In response, the new president has declared an internal armed conflict. Reporter Jorge Valencia has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

JORGE VALENCIA, BYLINE: The chaos was broadcast on live television. Masked gunmen shouted as they barged into the studios of TC Television in the city of Guayaquil. They drew their weapons and flashed what appeared to be a hand grenade.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

VALENCIA: Shouting "no police," they ordered the TV crew to get down on the floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

VALENCIA: They also wanted the microphones.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN PABLO RUIZ: Que?

VALENCIA: "What?" That was the reaction from Juan Pablo Ruiz, a reporter with TC Television. He was watching the broadcast from another office in the capital of Quito.

RUIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

VALENCIA: "We started calling commanders and colonels," Ruiz tells me, "and they responded." Within an hour, police officers had taken over the studio and arrested 13 gunmen.

RUIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

VALENCIA: "They wanted to sow fear," Ruiz says, "and we couldn't allow that." This latest wave of violence began to engulf the country over the weekend after the notorious drug lord Adolfo Macias escaped from prison. Also known as Fito, he is infamous and brash.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VALENCIA: So brash that he recently made an appearance from prison in this video dedicated to him. Though he's supposed to be paying a 34-year sentence for organized crime, drug trafficking and murder.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).

VALENCIA: The song calls him chief among chiefs. He's the head of Los Choneros, a criminal group that authorities say exerts power over prisons across Ecuador. On Sunday, he vanished from his cell. And almost as soon as officials began looking for him, inmates in a half dozen prisons rioted and took guards hostage.

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PRESIDENT DANIEL NOBOA: (Speaking Spanish).

VALENCIA: "I'm giving clear and precise orders," President Daniel Noboa responded. On Monday, he ordered the military into prisons and onto streets. The following day, after a wave of apparently coordinated gang violence, he designated 20 gangs as terrorist groups. He also declared the country had entered internal armed conflict. The TC Television reporter, Juan Pablo Ruiz, says that right now, Ecuador needs to be united.

RUIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

VALENCIA: "Because police have to keep the public safe," he says, "and journalists have to inform the public."

RUIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

VALENCIA: "And here we are," Ruiz says. By day's end, his colleagues were back on air and he had filed a news report on the day's events.

For NPR News, I'm Jorge Valencia in Bogota.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTAN DE LIEGE'S "WINDROSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jorge Valencia
Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.