LatinNews Daily - 10 May 2022

ECUADOR: Dozens killed in prison riot

On 9 May, at least 44 inmates were killed and over a hundred escaped during a prison riot in the Ecuadorean city of Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas province).

Analysis:

The massacre in Santo Domingo’s Bellavista prison offered the latest evidence of the crisis gripping Ecuador’s prison system, which has seen a dramatic and unprecedented increase in violence since early 2021. Such massacres are now commonplace, a result of overcrowding, weak control by the authorities, and an increasingly violent gang culture. President Guillermo Lasso’s administration has announced steps to reduce overcrowding and bolster security within prisons, but the increasing power and organisation of criminal gangs will require a longer-term strategy. Lasso has responded to broader security issues by declaring wide-ranging states of exception - most recently on 29 April, when he militarised public security in the provinces of Guayas, Manabí, and Esmeraldas for a period of 60 days.

  • According to the attorney general’s office the rioting began in the early hours of yesterday morning and continued for approximately 12 hours,
  • The commander of the national police, Fausto Salinas, announced last night that 108 prisoners remained at large after having escaped from the prison during the riot. Speaking at the same press conference, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said that a further 112 inmates had been recaptured, bringing the total number that escaped the prison to 220.
  • A statement released yesterday by Ecuador’s prisons authority (SNAI) attributed the violence to “the presence of the leader of a criminal group who was transferred to this penitentiary following a judicial order.”
  • Carrillo went into more detail, stating that the violence was the result of tensions between the criminal gangs Los Lobos and R7. According to a report by national daily El Comercio, the gang leader in question was Freddy Anchundia Loor, the leader of R7. According to local media investigations, R7 had formerly been allied with the larger Los Lobos gang, helping it win control over a number of prisons, but has recently accused Los Lobos of abusing its power. These tensions between Los Lobos and R7 were reportedly also a trigger for a 3 April prison riot in the city of Cuenca (Azuay province), which left 20 inmates dead.
  • The riot was subdued following an intervention by the police and the SNAI. Carrillo said that, whilst most of those killed had been stabbed, police also seized four rifles, four pistols, four grenades, and 1,800 rounds of ammunition.
  • Writing on Twitter, President Lasso said yesterday that he “will not allow mafias to twist our arm.” He said that in response to the rioting, six prisoners had been transferred to other penitentiaries to reduce tensions.
  • The massacre in Santo Domingo is the latest sign that Lasso’s plan to tackle unprecedented prison violence is failing. Last year saw a record 316 inmates murdered behind bars, with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) releasing a report in late March highlighting overcrowding as the key cause of the violence, as well as the “self-governing” of prisons by gangs.

Looking Ahead: The government has announced steps to reduce the strain on prison services, announcing that 5,000 inmates will be granted early release as part of Lasso's objective of ending overcrowding by the end of 2022 (according to the IACHR report, Ecuador’s prisons are filled over capacity by 6,000 inmates). In March, SNAI director Pablo Ramírez also announced that an additional 1,400 prison guards would be hired by November.

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