Correspondent in Quito
A police operation, at dawn yesterday, requisitioned knives and grenades in the Litoral Penitentiary, in Guayaquil. It happened the day after having recovered dozens of lifeless bodies of prisoners, massacred on Tuesday, in a bloody day that left 116 dead and at least 80 injured, product of violent confrontations between criminal gangs, linked to drug trafficking, that control the prison.
It was an atrocious massacre, which could be measured only a day later, when different police units were able to enter the pavilions, because on the day of the events, Tuesday 28, there were 24 deaths, and the authorities announced that they had control from jail. It was not so.
Towards noon on Wednesday, the director of the Comprehensive Attention Service for Persons Deprived of Liberty (SNAI), Bolivar Garzón, gave an account of the death toll, which caused a general commotion, in a country that did not come out of astonishment when it learned of the horror stories that reported decapitated and mutilated bodies.
The President, Guillermo Lasso, decreed the state of exception of the country’s prison system, for 60 days; and he moved from Quito to Guayaquil, to head a Crisis Committee. “It is unfortunate that the prisons are being turned into a territory of power disputes between criminal gangs,” said the president, who assured that they will not give up until they regain control of the Litoral Penitentiary and prevent these events from being repeated in other centers prisons.
Pain and crying
Wednesday was a day of pain and crying; Despair seized the relatives of the inmates who took over the entrances to the penitentiary complex, in search of information about their loved ones; there were heart-rending screams as names appeared on the list of the deceased, or They were identified in videos of great crudeness, sent from inside the jail.
The ambulance parade took place throughout the day, during which dozens of policemen on motorcycles, as well as soldiers in armored cars, remained stationed outside the prison, giving a feeling of a kind of war of the State against the cartels, while confirming that control of the prison was not in the hands of the authorities.
Yesterday, the pain was transferred to the Samanes park coliseum, where there was an information point to inquire about their imprisoned relatives, and outside the crime lab, where they went to identify the bodies. It was a complicated task not without drama and suffering because many had been cremated. So far this year, 240 people have died in clashes in prison as of last August.
This new episode of confrontations and deaths in prisons is the second so far during the government of Guillermo Lasso, who assumed power on May 24. In July, 22 inmates died in two clashes in the same Litoral Penitentiary, in Guayaquil, and in the Latacunga prison, in the center of the country. And, days ago, another Guayaquil prison was attacked by drones from abroad. The previous massacre occurred on February 23, with the balance of 79 dead. Lenín Moreno ruled the country.
Overcrowding in prisons
One of the biggest problems of the Ecuadorian prison system is overcrowding, which is estimated to be around 33%. Overcrowding in Ecuador’s prisons is inhumane; Without sanitary conditions, physical and even mental illnesses are also recurrent. It is a structural problem, the product of a failed prison model, in which 40% of prisoners do not have a sentence, to which must be added the enormous deficit of prison officers, because there would only be one officer for every 240 prisoners.
The other serious reality is the presence of gangs linked to the Mexican cartels, already admitted by the authorities. Of the 40,000 prisoners in the country, more than 25,000 belong to 10 criminal groups. The main ones are ‘Los Choneros’, the armed wing of the Sinaloa cartel; and ‘Los Lobos’, which give security to Jalisco Nueva Generación, according to ABC’s Arturo Torres, co-founder of the Glass Code portal and author of ‘The chameleon game’ , who considers that in the country’s prisons “there is no Intelligence; nothing is anticipated; only corpses are collected. The Government says that it has a strategic plan to face all difficulties and shortcomings.