🌍 A state of emergency in Ecuador

Plus: SEC's twitter hacker promotes Bitcoin

Hi Intriguer. When I read on Sunday that an Ecuadorian gang leader had disappeared from his prison cell, I immediately imagined an elaborate, years-in-the-making El Chapo-style escape via dirty laundry cart.

The reality is less meme-able but far more consequential. The prison break has ignited a horrible week of violence across Ecuador. We break down what’s going on and why in today’s top story.

My co-founder Helen actually became friendly with Ecuador’s new president while at Harvard a few years back - we’ll put out feelers for an interview to learn more about what’s been happening there. We’ll keep you posted.

- John Fowler, Co-Founder

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TODAY’S NEWS

ICJ hears genocide case against Israel. South Africa brought the case to the UN court (which settles disputes between states), and accused Israel of genocide against Palestinians in its war in Gaza. Israel denies the allegations.

Security Council demands stop to Red Sea attacks. The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding the Houthis “cease all attacks” in the Red Sea, and noted the right of states to defend their vessels against hostilities. Four members, including China and Russia, abstained from the vote. In related news, an oil tanker previously embroiled in a US-Iran dispute was boarded by people in military-style uniforms off the coast of Oman and forced to divert towards Iran.

US presidential hopeful bows out. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie left the US presidential race on Wednesday, reducing the number of Republican candidates down to five. Two of them, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, later traded jabs on stage at the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucus.

Somali rebels seize UN helicopter. A group of armed Ab-Shabaab fighters seized control of a UN helicopter forced to make an emergency landing in rebel-held territory. One passenger was killed, one is reported missing, whilst the remaining five are being held captive.

TOP STORY

What the heck is going on in Ecuador?

Escaped gang leader ‘Fito’ during his ‘brief’ modelling career. Credits: Ecuadorian Armed Forces, 12 August 2023

Violence has erupted across Ecuador this week. At least 13 people have been killed, shops, schools and government offices are closed, and soldiers are patrolling the streets in several cities across the country.

President Daniel Noboa has declared a state of emergency, ordered a nationwide curfew and said that Ecuador was in a “state of internal armed conflict”.

What’s behind this sudden outbreak of violence?

  • ‘Fito’, the convicted head of the Los Choneros gang, escaped from prison in the country’s largest city, Guayaquil, on Sunday. Since then, there have been reports of bomb explosions, gunfire, and looting across the country.

  • Then, on Tuesday, armed gang members stormed the TC Televisión studio, taking newsreaders and production staff hostage. The attack was captured live on air, and one gunman was overheard saying “don’t mess with the mafias.” (🇪🇨)

  • At least 28 prison guards have been taken hostage since Sunday, including one who was forced at gunpoint to read out a statement saying, "You [President Noboa] declared a state of emergency. We declare police, civilians and soldiers to be the spoils of war."

Violence on this scale is a relatively new phenomenon in Ecuador. In Guayaquil - which is Ecuador’s principal port and therefore, a drug trafficking hub - murders were up ~80% last year.

Corruption is also rife among Ecuador’s police and prison system - analysts estimate that criminal gangs run one-quarter of the country’s prisons.

In fact, the probable trigger for Fito’s jailbreak and the subsequent gang violence was President Noboa's recent decision to move notorious inmates like Fito from their cells, where they have been orchestrating crimes, to a more secure prison.

The region is watching closely

  • 🇵🇪 Peru declared an emergency along its border with Ecuador and moved troops and police to reinforce it. It’s worried that gang members might flee across the border from Ecuador.

  • 🇨🇴 Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro expressed solidarity with Ecuador, saying his country would help however it could. Colombia is no stranger to drug cartel-related crime.

  • 🇺🇸 US: The US said it supports President Noboa’s efforts to tackle organised crime. Ecuadorians have been migrating to the US in record numbers recently - the US does not want a prolonged emergency situation that forces more Ecuadorians to head north.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

At its core, this is a story about violent drug gangs fighting over large cocaine flows from the Americas to the insatiable markets of the US and Europe. President Noboa was elected in large part because he promised to use the military to end drug trafficking-related violence. But that approach isn’t a slam dunk.

In Mexico, a military crackdown created many smaller gangs, which has arguably worsened violence. A crackdown in El Salvador saw murder rates fall 70% last year, but human rights groups say the government has arbitrarily detained citizens, and tortured and killed prisoners.

Given this week’s events, Ecuadorians understandably remain in favour of Noboa’s approach, so he’ll get considerable freedom to respond forcefully during this “60-day state of emergency.”

Also worth noting:

  • 11 days before last year’s presidential election, one of the candidates Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated. He had expressed a fear of the Los Choneros gang shortly before his death.

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MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇨🇳 China: A Chinese state-backed institute says it’s found a way to identify the phone numbers and emails of users of Apple’s AirDrop feature, once thought to be a safe way to share files while avoiding the prying eyes of Beijing. AirDrop was widely used during Hong Kong’s 2019 protests.

  2. 🇵🇱 Poland: Two Polish MPs sentenced to prison for abuse of power were arrested on Tuesday in the presidential palace, where President Andrzej Duda had been protecting them. It’s a dramatic escalation of the power struggle between Duda (loyal to the conservative Law and Justice Party) and the new Prime Minister Donald Tusk. 

  3. 🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea: A peaceful demonstration by police and public servants in the capital, Port Moresby, escalated into looting, arson and violence on Wednesday. Prime Minister James Marape declared a state of emergency and authorised defence personnel to support the police in restoring order. 

  4. 🇦🇷 Argentina: December’s inflation numbers were the highest since 1990 due to President Javier Milei's decision to devalue the peso by more than 50%. Milei acknowledged the price hikes, but argued they could have been worse.

  5. 🇮🇶 Iraq: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani told Reuters that his country is looking to negotiate a quick and orderly exit of US military forces from its soil. His comments come a day after a report claiming that Iraqi officials privately want the US military to remain.

EXTRA INTRIGUE

Here’s what people around the world Googled yesterday: 

  • 🇹🇼 Folks in Taiwan googled ‘特斯拉’ (Tesla) after the EV giant launched its revamped Model 3 car, which will be available in Taiwan in the coming months. 

  • 🇷🇴 Romanians searched for ‘Adan Canto’ after news broke of the Narcos actor’s passing

  • 🇹🇷 People in Turkey looked for ‘Pegasus’ following an announcement the air carrier was offering flights for €11

TWEET/X OF THE DAY

Did a social media intern jump the gun?

The above tweet on Tuesday was not actually sent by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). Chairman Gary Gensler announced the agency’s official account was hacked, but not before a spike in the cryptocurrency’s price.

In a plot twist, the SEC announced yesterday that it would approve the previously mentioned Bitcoin ETFs. Either a trigger-happy social media intern is getting fired, or someone wanted a little more time to load up on Bitcoin before the announcement became official.

Yesterday’s poll: Should Ukraine negotiate with Russia to end the war?

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 👎 No, there's no negotiating with Putin (49%)

🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️ 👍 Yes, it's time (41%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🤔 Yes, but only under these terms… (write in!) (8%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (2%)

Your two cents:

  • 👎 C.L: “If Ukraine approaches Russia, I don't see any agreement that would end the war that doesn't involve Ukraine losing a decent chunk of territory. If you add that to the Crimea situation, it's going to set a really bad precedent, further consolidate Putin's power”

  • 👍 E.K.M: “With Israel-Hamas putting a second military pressure on the world, Ukraine needs to secure what it can, and fast.”

  • 🤔 S.A: Yes, but only under these conditions: “That Russia gives back a major part of occupied Ukraine and signs a declaration of no attack in the future even if Ukraine joins NATO and EU.”

✏️ Corrections corner: In yesterday’s edition, we mistakenly referred to Narendra Modi as India’s President rather than Prime Minister - apologies! Droupadi Murmu is the President of India.

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