Soldiers stand guard outside the presidential palace following a wave of violence around the nation, prompting President Daniel Noboa to declare gangs to be terrorist organisations to be hunted by the military, in Quito, Ecuador January 10, 2024. Reuters/Karen Toro
More than 130 prison guards and other staff are being held hostage by inmates in at least five prisons around Ecuador, which is reeling from an escalation of violence in recent days that its president has called a war.
President Daniel Noboa, who has promised to tackle a growing security problem caused by a rise in drug-trafficking gangs transporting cocaine through Ecuador, on Tuesday named 22 gangs as terrorist organizations, making them official military targets.
"We are at war and we cannot cede in the face of these terrorist groups," Noboa told radio station Canela Radio.
The hostage-takings, which began in the early hours of Monday, and the apparent escape of Los Choneros gang leader Adolfo Macias from prison over the weekend, spurred Noboa to declare a 60-day state of emergency.
He hardened the decree on Tuesday after a series of explosions around the country and a dramatic takeover of a TV station by gunmen live on air.
The government has said the violence is a reaction to Noboa's plan to build a new high security prison for gang leaders.
Noboa said the country will begin to deport foreign prisoners, especially Colombians, this week to reduce prison populations and spending.
There are some 1,500 Colombians in prison in Ecuador, Noboa told the radio station, adding that prisoners from Colombia, Peru and Venezuela account for 90% of jailed foreigners.
Colombia has, like many Latin American countries, expressed its support for Ecuador's government, and said on Wednesday it would increase military presence and controls along their nearly 600-kilometer (370-mile) shared border.
Colombia's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Noboa's deportation plan.
Noboa also doubled down on his plans to separate gang leaders from wider prison populations, increase security at ports, and fight corruption, among other measures.
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito