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Quito (AFP) – Nine people were killed this Tuesday, April 11, in Ecuador by around thirty armed attackers who arrived in boats and cars at a port for artisanal fishermen in the northern province of Esmeraldas, on the border with Colombia, authorities reported.
The Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on Twitter “the removal of seven corpses from the Artisanal Fishing Port of the canton (Esmeraldas) and two more in a nearby health center” that were transferred to the forensic center.
Videos broadcast on social networks show the population pulling bodies out of the water while other bloody corpses lie on the ground in Esmeraldas, capital of the province of the same name, located about 300 kilometers north of Quito.
The Minister of the Interior, Juan Zapata, explained that the attack occurred around 9 in the morning (local time) in the port of this town, with a mostly Afro population, where there were between 1,500 and 2,000 people.
The identity of the deceased is unknown, although local media indicate that the majority were fishermen.
“Thirty heavily armed people (…) generate these shots in a criminal, delinquent way,” said the head of the portfolio in an interview with the channel ‘Ecuavisa’.
According to Minister Zapata, the attack occurred because the fishermen “preferred the safety” of one of the organized gangs “and in retaliation” over a rival group that opened fire.
The attackers arrived at the port in two boats and in an unknown number of cars, according to the official version.
One of the taxis in which they were traveling was abandoned at the port, the Prosecutor’s Office said in another tweet.
On the same social network, the Ecuadorian Navy reported a deployment of troops to “intensify military operations by air, sea and land” and “locate” those responsible.
The armed attack occurred in the midst of a state of emergency decreed by President Guillermo Lasso on March 3 to mitigate the high rates of violence and crime in the impoverished province of Esmeraldas.
states of emergency
Nestled between Colombia and Peru, the world’s top cocaine producers, Ecuador faces rising drug trafficking and violent deaths.
Its murder rate has nearly doubled in the past year.going from 14 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021 to 25 in 2022.
The tourist province of Esmeraldas is considered by the authorities as one of the places with “the highest levels of insecurity in the country.”
At the end of March, the Police found three heads there, one of them of a teenager, wrapped in black bags. According to the uniformed officers, they were people linked to criminal gangs.
Located at a strategic point in the Pacific, Esmeraldas serves as a corridor to transport drugs to Europe and the United States, as well as other ports in the nation.
“In three weeks here, 1.2 tons of drugs have been seized,” said Zapata, who attributed the shooting to “fights between gangs, fights for territory.”
In 2021, Ecuador seized a record 210 tons of drugs. Last year the seizures exceeded 200 tons and so far in 2023 it has seized 48.9 tons.
This is the second time that the province is under a state of emergency in less than six months.
Last November, a reprisal by criminal gangs for the transfer of prisoners, which included the explosion of car bombs and clashes in prisons, led Lasso to declare a 60-day emergency in Guayas, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas and Esmeraldas.
Currently, the coastal provinces of Santa Elena and Los Ríos, and the cities of Guayaquil, Durán and Samborondón (in Guayas) are under a state of emergency.
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