More than 60 detainees died Tuesday in mutinies that broke out in three of Ecuador’s overcrowded prisons, which authorities say are due to rivalries between gangs, including drug traffickers.
This country is facing an unprecedented prison crisis: at least 62 dead, including 33 in Cuenca (south), 21 in Guayaquil (south-west) and eight in Latacunga (south), said Edmundo Moncayo, director of the prison service ( SNAI).
He did not report deaths among the police, but “police officers who were injured”, without specifying the number.
Outside the Guayaquil facility, around 40 desperate women were trying to get news of their detained relatives.
Daniela Soria, 29, says she received a cry for help from her husband, Ricardo, sentenced to three years in prison for drug trafficking. “They will kill me! Get me out of here! Tell them to change me flag, ”launches this man in this message that she played to an AFP journalist.
“We want the list of the dead. We know that the problems persist, because everyone has a telephone, and my husband does not call me, ”laments this mother.
The prosecution attributed the disturbances to “clashes of criminal gangs”.
For his part, President Lenin Moreno denounced a simultaneous action of “criminal organizations”, assuring on Twitter that the police “act to regain control of the prisons”.
By nightfall, the police and guards had managed to restore order, a SINAI source told AFP. The army has also been deployed around the prisons.
A crisis unit has been set up by the government, also faced with the mobilization of hundreds of indigenous people, demanding a new vote count of Yaku Perez, their presidential candidate excluded from the second round scheduled for April 11 and who denounces fraud.
According to the director of the prison service, the violence in prisons is due to power wars between gangs, financed by drug trafficking, and who from there direct their operations.
Mr. Moncayo considered that the riots of the day “are a signal of resistance and rejection on the part of the detainees in the face of control actions”, such as a search carried out the day before in the prison of Guayaquil.
Two firearms, which were to be used to eliminate the leaders of a gang, were then seized, and their enemies ordered the “murder of prisoners of other centers”, he added.
“In there, it’s a market. There is everything: drugs, weapons […] Everything sells, ”added Daniela Soria.
The SNAI admitted a lack of security personnel, which “complicates immediate response actions” in the event of mutinies.
Before the events of Tuesday, three prisoners had already died since January during disturbances, according to the police.
The Ecuadorian penitentiary system has nearly 60 prisons and some 38,000 detainees with a capacity of 29,000 places, or an overcrowding of about 30%, with only 1,500 guards.
In December 2020, mutinies in various prisons, also attributed to rivalries between gangs, in particular drug traffickers, had left eleven dead and seven injured among inmates.
A state of emergency had however been previously declared in the country’s prisons by President Moreno, for a period of 90 days completed at the end of December. The aim was to control the “mafias” and reduce violence, which resulted in the deaths of 51 detainees over the year.
In order to reduce prison overcrowding in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely affected the country, Ecuador also last year implemented alternative sentence measures for minor offenses, reducing overcrowding from 42% to 30%.