In Esmeraldas, a coastal town in Ecuador, at least ten people were shot dead and at least four injured on Tuesday morning during an attack on a shed in the fishing port. Armed men came to the quay in a car and boats and forced their way into a fish market. That happened around 09:00 when traders and fishermen were trading batches of fish there.
It appears that the victims are all ‘simple people’, according to a police commissioner, and not criminals. Twenty to thirty men allegedly burst in and opened fire on random victims with both pistols and assault rifles. Based on an initial forensic investigation, the police say that at least 200 shots were fired.
At the time of the attack, there were between 1,500 and 2,000 people on the quay and in the sheds.
The police are seriously considering that the attack is related to a confrontation between two criminal groups who are fighting each other for power in the harbor of Esmeraldas and the cooperation of fishermen in the smuggling of cocaine by sea. One of the groups studied is Los Tiguerones.
Another possibility is that one of the victims (a man with the alias “Papá”) was the target of the attack. He is said to have connections to a local gang known as Los Patones, which is believed to be behind the assassination of a Los Tiguerones leader on March 11, 2023.
Esmeraldas is located not far from the container port of Guayaquil, in a coastal area where the cocaine trade affects the economy and society in many ways. In the small provincial town, there are an average of several deaths per day. In the region of Guayaquil (with more than 3 million inhabitants), more than 1,500 violent deaths occurred in 2022. That is almost double the number in 2021. There are 123 deaths per year throughout the Netherlands. During the last elections, a number of local politicians were liquidated.
In the area around Guayaquil, army units are helping to maintain public order because the police are out of control or are highly corrupt. The mayor of Esmeraldas recently said he wants to allow civilians to carry guns to defend themselves.
Ecuador has become an increasingly important hub for international cocaine trade in a few years. Many containers with fruit depart from Guayaquil to Rotterdam and Antwerp.
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