Ecuador vows to regain control of prisons amid wave of violence


Ecuador has increased security amid a growing wave of violence that has left several police dead and forced President Guillermo Lasso to declare a 45-day state of emergency in the provinces of Guayas and Esmeraldas.

National Security Secretary Diego Ordoñez vowed Thursday that the government would regain control of Ecuador’s prisons, sites of repeated bloodshed, and implement other anti-crime operations, after an emergency meeting of advice

At least five Ecuadorian police officers have been killed in explosive attacks, Fausto Salinas, Ecuador’s police chief, announced on Tuesday during a press conference.

Salinas assured that on the same day three detonations were registered in the city of Esmeraldas: two with car bombs and one in the vicinity of the Community Police Unit. He added that the wave of attacks began in response to the transfer of dozens of inmates to other prisons in the country.

President Lasso has repeatedly blamed organized drug gangs for the violence in prisons and across Ecuador, which is a key transit point on the cocaine route from South America to the United States and Asia.

At least five Ecuadorian policemen died this Tuesday in explosive attacks in the provinces of Guayas and Esmeraldas.

Ecuador’s prisons are chronically overcrowded. In July 2021, the then head of the prison, Eduardo Moncayo, told local media that the Litoral Penitentiary was the most overcrowded in the country, with more than 9,000 inmates in a facility planned for 5,000.

The prison system has been on high alert since the September 2021 prison clashes involving automatic weapons and even grenades.

More than 300 inmates were killed by prison violence in 2021, according to figures from Ecuador’s prison service SNAI, and in May a prison riot in the north of the country left more than 23 dead.

Ecuadorian government ministers have attributed the attacks to the government’s attempt to tackle organized crime.

“We will not lower our guard, they will not lower the morale of the police. The force of the state cannot yield to organized crime. The police cannot seem overwhelmed,” said the Minister of the Interior, Juan Zapata, this Tuesday morning.

According to Ecuador’s penitentiary service, SNAI, the reason for the transfers that began this Tuesday is “to reduce overcrowding, improve infrastructure and security conditions.” SNAI also wrote in a tweet that 1,002 inmates were transferred from Ecuador’s most violent prison, Guayaquil, to prisons across the country.

A police officer hangs tape at the crime scene where colleagues were killed in response to prisoner transfers from overcrowded prisons.

Defense Minister Luis Lara said the attacks were carried out in response to the national government’s “firm determination to regain control of prisons and eradicate the drug trade in the country.”

He said the violence in Guayas and Esmeraldas is associated with drug trafficking and organized crime.

About 1,400 Armed Forces troops have been deployed to Guayaquil, and more will be added this week, he added.

“What happened in Guayaquil and Esmeraldas is devastating. Criminal groups will not be able to take over the country”, wrote the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Juan Carlos Holguín, in a tweet on Tuesday. “All the support to our president Guillermo Lasso, to our Armed Forces, to the Police . This must be a national crusade. International support has been key to this crusade.”

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