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3 human heads found in Ecuador province plagued by drug trafficking

WorldView: Deadly prison riot in Ecuador
WorldView: Deadly prison riot in Ecuador 03:11

Police in Ecuador found three human heads wrapped in black bags in a coastal province bordering Colombia, authorities said Thursday.

The province of Esmeraldas, which President Guillermo Lasso said has "the highest levels of insecurity in the country," has been under a state of emergency since early March due to a spike in drug trafficking-related violence.

Two of the three decapitated heads discovered were identified by their mother, who told authorities one of them was a teenager, said Police General Fausto Buenano.

"It is known that these people who were decapitated belong to an (organized crime group) here in Esmeraldas," he said.

"We presume that (gang members) are eliminating each other, perhaps for power, for more distribution," Buenano added.

Since March 3, freedom of movement in Esmeraldas has been restricted from 9 pm to 5 am.

It is the second time in less than six months that a state of emergency has been declared in the province.

In November, Lasso imposed a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew after at least five police officers were killed and prison guards taken hostage.

Lasso has declared war on gangs who control the drug trade from prisons engulfed by extreme violence and riots that have left more than 400 inmates dead since 2021.

Ecuador, located between Colombia and Peru, has seen a sharp rise in drug trafficking and murder in the past year.

The murder rate jumped from 14 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2021 to 25 the following year, while drug seizures, mostly cocaine destined for European ports, went from 120 tons to over 200 tons in the same period.

The government says the escalating violence is "related to illicit drug trafficking as well as extortion mechanisms."

With the proliferation of organized crime, some local gangs, such as the Lobos and Los Tiguerones, have morphed into micro-cartels.

Both gangs work with Mexico's Jalisco New Generation cartel, and have been responsible for deadly prison riots. The Department of Justice considers the Jalisco cartel "one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world." The cartel's leader, Nemesio Oseguera, "El Mencho," is among the most sought by Mexican and U.S. authorities.

The violence in Ecuador has also impacted the media. On Monday, letter bombs were sent to at least five journalists working in news stations in the country. One of them exploded and injured a TV reporter.

The prosecutor's office said it had opened an investigation into the crime of terrorism, without stating why the news stations were specifically targeted, or by whom.

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