Chaos in Ecuador
Scenes from the takeover of Ecuador's TV studio TC Television via AFP

César Chávez, the Ecuadorian prosecutor who was investigating the violent takeover of a TV station in the country last week, was murdered on Wednesday when he was in his car in the city of Guayaquil.

According to local outlet El Universo, Chávez was shot by hitmen after leaving his office. The news was confirmed by Attorney General Diana Salazar. "I'll be emphatic after the killing of our colleague César Chávez: organized crime groups, criminals, terrorists won't stop us," she said.

AFP reported that Chávez, who didn't have a police escort, had been tasked with investigating which group was behind the takeover of TC Television, an event that made waves around the world as it happened during a live broadcast.

The event, along with others of the kind in prisons and a university, prompted president Daniel Noboa to declare the country is in a state of "internal armed conflict," a decision that allowed him to deploy armed forces in the country and declare criminal organizations as terrorist groups.

The country's simmering security crisis erupted last week as the government and powerful narco gangs declared all-out war on each other after the prison escape of one Ecuador's main drug lords known as "Fito," who headed the country's main gang "Los Choneros".

Inmates rioted in jails where gangs wield outsize control, taking prison guards and administrative workers hostage, while on the streets a wave of violence has left 19 people dead.

In response, Noboa deployed over 22,000 security forces to the streets, who have frisked and stripped down young men in search of the tattoos identifying them as a member of one of the gangs.

It is in the prisons that much of the gang wars are fought, with brutal clashes between inmates leaving more than 460 dead, many beheaded or burned alive, since February 2021.

On Sunday the army shared videos of prison walls being blown up, and declared "total control" of a prison in the city of Cuenca where 61 employees had been held hostage, according to the mayor. Overall, over 1,100 people have been arrested since Noboa declared the state of internal armed conflict.

Once a bastion of peace situated between major cocaine producers, Ecuador has been plunged into crisis after years of expansion by the transnational cartels that use its ports to ship the drug to the United States and Europe. 2023 ended as the most violent year in Ecuador's history, with over 7,600 homicides compared to 2019's 1,187.

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