Calm had returned Sunday, November 14 in the prison of Guayaquil, the day after new deadly clashes between criminal gangs which left at least 68 dead and 25 injured among the detainees, according to the Office of the Prosecutor. Dozens of police were stationed at the entrance to the prison, and soldiers were deployed in the surrounding areas. The families of prisoners also gathered at the door of the penitentiary to try to hear from their imprisoned relatives.
The scale of the prison crisis poses a challenge to the country’s institutions and to the president, Guillermo Lasso (right), in place for seven months. The establishment, which accommodates some 8,500 detainees, was the scene, at the end of September, of the worst massacre ever recorded in the country: 119 prisoners had been murdered. President Lasso then proclaimed a “state of emergency” for a period of sixty days in the 65 Ecuadorian prisons in the country. In mid-October, he had extended the measure to the entire territory to fight against organized crime.
Strategic transit country
The new massacre brings the number of detainees killed in captivity to more than 300 since the start of the year. “It proves, if need be, that the state of emergency and the militarization of the country do not solve anything”, underlines the specialist in criminal policy Luis Astudillo, of the Metropolitana University. Authorities attribute the prison violence to rivalries between gangs linked to drug cartels. Caught between the two major cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has become a strategic transit country for traffickers. “The government accuses the international cartels to exonerate itself from all responsibility”, says Luis Astudillo, who denounces “The absence of a public prison policy and the lack of resources allocated to prisons”.
In February, during a mutiny in four prisons, 79 prisoners were found dead. Since then, the infernal logic of revenge seems to be engaged: each massacre is the cause of the next. On Sunday, inmates in two other prisons in the country began a hunger strike in protest over the insecurity in prison centers.
The new bout of violence started on Friday evening. According to the authorities, a group of detainees stormed, with bladed weapons and firearms, Pavilion 2 of the Guayaquil penitentiary center, where nearly 700 individuals are held. Prisoners managed to contact their relatives and journalists by phone to warn them of the situation and beg the police to intervene.
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