Ecuador prosecutor investigating gang attack on TV studio shot dead

Public prosecutor Cesar Suarez was investigating a number of recent high-profile cases of drug-related violent attacks.

police barricade tape is seen at a cordoned-off area, where Ecuadorean prosecutor Cesar Suarez, who focused on pursuing organized trans-national crime in Guayas province, was killed
A police barricade tape is seen at a cordoned-off area where Ecuadorean prosecutor Cesar Suarez was killed, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, January 17, 2024 [Vicente Gaibor del Pino/Reuters]

A prosecutor investigating an on-air attack on a public television station last week has been shot dead in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city.

Prosecutor Cesar Suarez, who earlier investigated some other high-profile cases, was shot on Wednesday while driving, according to Attorney General Diana Salazar.

“Organised crime groups, criminals, terrorists will not stop our commitment to society,” she said in a video broadcast on X.

Translation: It is impossible not to be broken by the death of a colleague in the fight against organised crime. We will remain firm in his name: for him, for the country, for justice. Thank you for your work, Cesar. Rest in peace. My solidarity with his family and friends.

#STATEMENT | The state attorney general, Diana Salazar M, – on behalf of Ecuador Prosecutor’s Office – speaks out regarding the murder of our colleague Cesar Suarez and what this crime represents in the context of what the country is experiencing.

The assault on TC Television was broadcast live and led President Daniel Noboa to declare that the Andean country was in a state of “internal armed conflict” amid a spate of violent crimes tied to drug trafficking.

Thirteen alleged perpetrators have been arrested in connection with the TV station attack.

Police were looking into who murdered Suarez, who was on his way to a court hearing when he was shot, the Council of the Judiciary said in a statement condemning the attack.

The killing had the hallmarks of an assassination, police said in a statement, adding that Suarez sustained a number of gunshot wounds.

“We reject all forms of violence as a response to the conflict we are experiencing and we ratify the strong commitment of the national government to supporting justice,” Defence Minister Gian Carlo Loffredo said in a message to journalists.

Suarez was also investigating the Metastasis case involving an Ecuadorian druglord who allegedly received favourable treatment from judges, prosecutors, police officers and senior officials.

State of emergency

The South American country which borders Colombia and Peru, has been rocked by some recent violent attacks, including the hostage-taking of more than 200 prison staff, explosions in several cities and the kidnapping of police officers.

The most recent uptick in violence followed the escape of Jose Adolfo Macias, aka “Fito”, the leader of Ecuador’s biggest gang, Los Choneros. Macias was serving a 34-year sentence at the La Regional prison in the port city of Guayaquil.

His disappearance in early January prompted the government to declare a 60-day state of emergency that involved sending the military into prisons. This spurred 30 attacks around the country, including the assault at the TV station in Guayaquil.

Ecuador’s national prisons agency (SNAI) said at the weekend that all prison staff taken hostage during prison riots had been freed.

The hostages, who SNAI authorities previously said were 158 prison guards and 20 administrative staffers, had been held in at least seven prisons.

The murder rate in Ecuador quadrupled from 2018 to 2022 and a record 200 tonnes of drugs were seized last year.

Security in the country has been worsening since the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that, Ecuador was a part of the “pink tide”, or left-leaning countries in Latin America, and enjoyed a period of stability and security under former President Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2018.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies