- Norberto Paredes @norbertparedes
- BBC News World
At least 116 dead and about 80 wounded, all prisoners.
That was the balance left this Wednesday by the last confrontation between rival gangs at the Number 1 Center for the Deprivation of Liberty in Guayaquil, Ecuador, an event that became the bloodiest in the country’s prison history.
Tuesday morning a large number of firearm detonations and explosions in various pavilions of the enclosure activated the alerts of the authorities.
After a police intervention, the officers found shot bodies and prints left by grenades in the prison halls.
According to the local press, several victims were mutilated. In five cases there were beheadings. In others, limb cuts.
On the morning of this Thursday the authorities regained “total” control, according to the National Service for Comprehensive Attention to Adults Deprived of Liberty and Adolescent Offenders (SNAI).
This is the third riot to be recorded in an Ecuadorian prison so far in 2021, after those that occurred in February and July, which left 79 and 22 dead, respectively.
In this article we explain 4 keys that explain what is behind this new massacre.
1. Power struggle
President Guillermo Lasso described as “regrettable” that the criminal gangs “intend to turn the prisons into a territory of dispute of power”, before decreeing the state of national exception in the prisons.
Later, the prosecution confirmed that the main triggers of the confrontations were the fight “for hold power”In the penitentiary compound and the intention of the authorities to transfer the leaders of criminal organizations to other penitentiary centers in the country.
Several criminal gangs operate in Ecuadorian prisons and each one of them seeks to seize the maximum power of the prisons and are linked to the Mexican narco.
“One is the Los Choneros mega-gang, which is linked to the Sinaloa Cartel; others are the Tiguerones, Los Lobos and Los Largartos, who are linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, ”Colonel tells BBC Mundo. Mario Pazmiño, former director of military intelligence and now security and defense analyst.
“These gangs fought each other for territorial control. They tried to take Pavilion 5, which was already a criminal structure. This triggered a confrontation. They killed some initially and then came the retaliation, “he summarized.
Only in Pavilion 5 there were more than 60 deaths. But the violence quickly spread to other parts of the Number 1 Deprivation of Liberty Center.
2. Drug trafficking
Los Choneros, Los Lobos and Los Largartos, among other gangs, not only dispute the leadership of the prison.
The specialized portal Insight Crime explains that Ecuadorian criminal groups traditionally operate in a fragmented manner, essentially acting as subcontractors for foreign criminal organizations.
The director of the Center for Strategic Intelligence in Ecuador, Fausto Cobo, told Reuters that the violence is “connected to other serious issues” when asked if the clashes were related to drug trafficking.
“This is an issue that goes beyond the prison issue, this is a threat against the Ecuadorian State.”
What the Ecuadorian gangs are fighting for is not just anything. As also highlights Insight Crime, in recent years Ecuador has become the “cocaine highway towards the United States and Europe. “
According to anti-narcotics sources cited by the portal, as a result of changes in strategy by Colombian drug traffickers, “more than a third of the growing cocaine production in Colombia currently reaches Ecuador.”
Last year, the National Police seized 128.4 tons of drugs, the largest seizure in the last decade, according to data from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Government.
These figures show that drug trafficking in Ecuador is on the rise.
“Bands need to stay in control, especially in the prisons of GuayaquilBecause there is the main route and the starting point: the Gulf of Guayaquil and the Port of Guayaquil, “explains former intelligence chief Pazmiño.
“More than half of all the cocaine that enters from Colombia comes from there,” he adds.
Pazmiño recalls that as both the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel operate in Guayaquil, each associated gang “needs to scare” their rival.
“They need to establish territorial control and they do that based on fire and blood. This situation is not only seen in the prisons, but it is a palpable reflection of what is lived in some neighborhoods of the city of Guayaquil, in which there are permanent combats for the other problem: micro-trafficking ”.
According to the report “The crisis of the penitentiary system in Ecuador”, published in 2006 by the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO)In Ecuadorian prisons, there is a system of corruption based on a personal relationship between officials and inmates.
Colonel Mario Pazmiño assures that, 15 years later, not only is this still the case, but that corruption has intensified.
“15 years ago there was not such a great penetration of transnational organized crime in the country. I believe that this type of action in the prison system has increased due to the presence of the mega gangs that directly control the prison system“he says.
According to the expert, the gangs run a first circle, which includes the National Police, but also circles that involve prison guides and the administrators of these centers “threatened by mega gangs,” he says.
Last July, Fausto Cobo, then director of SNAI, the institution that governs all prisons in Ecuador, warned that the crisis in the country’s prisons is the effect of the influence and infiltration of drug trafficking in all instances of the State.
One of the forms of corruption in Ecuadorian prisons occurs through the smuggling of goods.
As the food delivered in the centers is typically of poor quality, many inmates depend on their families for food.
But the income from food is not free.
“Passing a bottle of water can cost about US $ 4,” explains Pazmiño.
And the trade is not limited to food products: “A cartridge can cost up to US $ 5, a revolver up to US $ 4,000, a rifle can be over US $ 15,000 and a telephone US $ 500. Anyway, everything has a price ”.
Although it has been reduced compared to previous years, overcrowding continues to hinder the proper management of Ecuadorian prisons.
According to the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH), the Ecuadorian prison capacity is 28,500 people.
But in May 2019, when the government decreed the first state of emergency, the number of inmates totaled 41,836, an overcrowding of 42%.
Since then, the number has dropped, but not enough.
According to SNAI figures, the approximately 38,000 prisoners in the current system they are 33% overcrowded.
And the prisons of Cuenca, Guayaquil and Latacunga concentrate 70% of all those inmates.
As the specialized site explains Insight Crime, the overcrowding of prisons is a regional phenomenon that results in human rights problems and in the lack of control about prison systems.