Ailing Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso has declared a fourth state of emergency in the violence-ridden city of Guayaquil after a deadly bomb attack left at least five people dead and 17 injured.
Ecuadorian Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo called Sunday’s blast a “declaration of war on the state” by organized crime in the country’s biggest city and called it an act of terrorism. Security forces will be mobilized for a month and allowed to carry out home inspections.
Footage from the scene showed house facades ripped off and blood-stained cars with their windows blown out in the working-class neighborhood of Cristo de Consuelo. Eight homes and two cars were destroyed in the morning blast, authorities said.
The bombing marks a dramatic escalation in the violent tactics used by criminal gangs in Ecuador’s largest city, which has seen an exponential rise in murders as rival gangs battle for dominance in the cocaine trade routes to Europe and the United States.
Caught between Colombia and Peru, the world’s biggest cocaine producers, Ecuador has seen shocking levels of violence, including decapitated bodies hanging from pedestrian bridges and six brutalities massacres in prison in which nearly 400 inmates have been killed since February 2021.
Since the decree, 11 raids have been carried out in the city and five people have been arrested, Carrillo told reporters on Monday.
“What concerns us the most…is the capacity [the gang] now have to build elements by hand”, Carrillo tweeted after the explosion, referring to the explosives used in the act. “We are investigating how they achieve these abilities to commit barbaric acts.”
The incident is the deadliest to date in a dramatic rise in bombings in the country with 145 so far this year, half of which occurred in Guayaquil, according to government figures.
“Criminal gangs have become a government within a government in Ecuador,” wrote the mayor of Guayaquil, Cynthia Viteriin a open letter posted on Twitter to Lasso, who took over as president last year.
“We have witnessed hangings on bridges, planned murders on motorcycles, rapes in malls and school buses,” she wrote. “The extortion blamed on innocent traders and the death of more than a dozen children victims of stray bullets.”
“A president is the protector of his people, but so far we have seen no safe measures to fight crime,” the letter continued. “Who is responsible here, organized crime or an enslaved government?”
On Twitter, Lasso replied that the enemy was “narco-terrorism…not the government”, adding that “in countries that have had these painful experiences, the authorities act in unity and not divided”. However, he has faced mounting criticism as the escalation in violence shows no signs of abating.
Guayaquil was one of 50 most violent cities worldwide in 2021, according to Insight Crime, a think tank. This is the first time that an Ecuadorian city has appeared on the list.