In Ecuador, new violence in a prison leaves at least 44 prisoners dead

In Ecuador, new violence in a prison leaves at least 44 prisoners dead

A new bloody episode hit a prison in Ecuador on Monday, May 9, where violence between rival gangs caused the death of 44 prisoners, according to a latest report from the Ministry of the Interior, headed by Patricio Carrillo, who also reported that ten others had been injured. A previous toll reported 43 dead.

The violence took place in Bellavista prison, in the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, about 80 km west of Quito, in the north of the country. On the spot, wounded with facial wounds were taken care of by ambulances and relatives of detainees crowded around the penitentiary center to try to obtain information, noted Agence France-Presse (AFP). The authorities have announced that they have regained control of the establishment.

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“Great Cruelty”

According to the Ecuadorian police chief, “the attackers acted with great cruelty”, while the violence was followed by a mass escape. While the authorities have given no figures on the total number of escapees, 112 of them may have been “recaptured”but 108 were still “missing” Monday afternoon, according to the chief of police, General Fausto Salinas. “Two hundred and fifty police, 200 soldiers and additional reinforcements are on the way”, he detailed. With a capacity of 1,200 places, the Bellavista prison currently accommodates 1,700 prisoners.

“This is the unfortunate result of gang violence”lamented, for his part on Twitter, the president, Guillermo Lasso, on tour in Israel. He addressed his “sincere condolences to the families” deceased persons.

The clashes between members of two rival gangs, the “Wolves” and the “R7”, broke out around 3 a.m., the minister said, triggering the outbreak of “security protocols” to contain the “disorders” in jail. “The majority of the victims, if not almost 100%, were killed with knives, not with firearms”and “their mutilated corpses left behind”.

“They were executed in the common rooms, in the cells”then “there was a massive escape attempt” with the use of firearms, admitted Mr. Carrillo.

“Those who are allowed to move between the different blocks within the prison are likely to be the ones behind this massacre”he said, referring to a “scenario identical to that of April 28 in the prison of El Turi, where members of the “Wolves” had already faced “R7””. Some twenty prisoners had died there, again most of them mutilated with knives.

Hundreds of deaths for more than a year

Clashes, often extremely violent, are recurrent in Ecuadorian prisons, where nearly 350 inmates have died since February 2021.

According to the government, rival gangs of drug traffickers, infiltrated or controlled by Mexican cartels, are waging an all-out war for control of overcrowded prisons, a war that authorities have so far been powerless to stem.

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For Daniel Ponton, Dean of the School of Security and Defense at the Institute for Advanced National Studies, the “relocation policy” of the most dangerous detainees, exfiltrated from large prisons, would be at the origin of this outbreak of violence in penitentiary establishments until then “relatively quiet”which could result in “worrying generalization of the problem”. The escape of many prisoners also indicates that this is “from a low-security prison”and so “extremely vulnerable”.

In 2021, Ecuador seized a record 210 tons of drugs, mostly cocaine. For 2022, seizures to date have reached around 70 tonnes. Bordered by Colombia and Peru, the world’s largest cocaine producers, Ecuador serves as a port of departure for illicit shipments, mainly to the United States and Europe.

Le Monde with AP and AFP