The fighting in the prisons has already left more than 200 deaths in recent months
Ecuador experienced the bloodiest prison massacre in its history and the fifth in the region. The Litoral Penitentiary, located in Guayaquil, the second most populated city in Ecuador, was the place where once again there was an intense day of violence. The balance of the riots left 116 prisoners killed and at least 50 inmates wounded.
The drama is lived both inside and outside the Penitentiary. Hundreds of policemen and even military tanks have entered the jail to try to regain control. At the same time, ambulances and forensic medicine vehicles parade through the prison entrance, removing lifeless bodies and transporting the wounded to the hospital. Outside the jail, hundreds of mothers, fathers, wives, and other relatives await information to find out if their relatives are alive. The same happens outside the morgue where the parents of hundreds of inmates seek to know the fate of their children. There are parents who in this violent episode have lost several of their children.
The new massacre in the Penitentiary is one more event in the prison crisis that Ecuador is experiencing. In 2021 alone, violence in prisons has left more than 200 dead, according to official information. The tax authorities insist that there is a power struggle to lead the prisons, however, some experts and even the Comprehensive Care System, the institution in charge of the prisons, agree that there is a ” drug war ” in the country. The mega gangs would be behind the atrocious acts that have taken place in the prisons.
The investigative journalism portal Code Glass revealed a report from the Police Penitentiary Security Coordination. The document, as published by the media, indicates that more than 25,000 prisoners in the country belong to some criminal gang. This figure is equivalent to 64% of people detained in prisons. Two bands are the ones that group the largest number of members. The number of prisoners that make up criminal gangs is equivalent to the number of members that an army usually has. In Ecuador, the figure differs by less than half. The Armed Forces of Ecuador have more than 34,000 troops, just 10,000 more than the prisoners who belong to the gangs.
Los Choneros, one of the oldest gangs in Ecuador and operating since the 90s, they have 12,000 members. Its members are in the prisons of the Cotopaxi, Santo Domingo, Manabí, and Guayas provinces, the latter is where the bloody events of this week took place.
According to Insight Crime, initially, the authorities associated Los Choneros as “the armed wing of a Colombian drug cartel, with control over the maritime traffic routes through the Pacific to Mexico and the United States. ” However, since 2011, when the main heads of the gang were arrested, Los Choneros mutated.
Is so The Choneros has become one of the most violent prison gangs in the country. “This change in dynamics also redirected the interest of the international drug trafficking group to micro-trafficking, hitmen, extortion, and smuggling,” explains the specialized security portal.
During the government of the former Ecuadorian president, Lenín Moreno, the authorities used as a strategy, to regain prison control, the transfer of the main leaders of the gang to other prisons in the country. The action, instead of returning control of the prison system to the State, allowed Los Choneros to expand as a prison gang and for subgroups loyal to them to be created in the prisons.
However, according to Insight Crime, four old Los Choneros substructures: Los Chone Killers, Los Lobos, Los Pipes, and Los Tiguerones, coordinated the attacks against the leaders of Los Choneros. This is because the band fragmented after the murder of alias Rasquiña, its leader.
Recent investigations associate the Choneros gang with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. Hence, the struggle of this gang is against members of the criminal group Nueva Generación, which response to the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel.
In many members, Los Lobos is the second-largest megaband in Ecuador. It is estimated that8,000 prisoners join the gang.
Los Lobos (8,000) with Los Pipos , Los Chone Killers (900 members) and Los Tiguerones (1,200 members), were grouped under the name of Nueva Generación . The dispute with Los Choneros is the control of the routes through which drug trafficking sends drugs, especially cocaine, to the United States and European countries.
The members of Los Lobos are in prisons in the provinces of Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Santo Domingo, Guayas, Chimborazo, Azuay and El Oro.
Arturo Torres, a journalist specialized in security and founder of the Glass Code portal, explained to Infobae that Jalisco Nueva Generación “is an extremely violent cartel and the people who work with them from prisons and outside of prisons are exercising this type of symbolism of cruelty ”.
Gangs Against the State
Although the authorities assure that the riots respond to a struggle to control the prisons, the evidence shows that the persecution is through the millionaire drug trafficking routes.
According to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report prepared by the United States Department of State, cocaine and heroin shipments from Colombia and Peru “are trafficked by land through porous borders and maritime routes. ”. Authorities estimate that 70% leave the country through ports from Guayaquil. The drug would be hidden in containers. The same report ensures that Ecuador is not a producer of illicit drugs, but it is an important route for the distribution of drugs that are sent to the United States and Europe.
Torres pointed out that the mega-gangs “have great economic power and great penetration among officials of the prison system through corruption and payment of bribes.” This would be one of the reasons why the State has lost control of the prisons.
Another cause would be the lack of prison guides. “It is impossible for 1,500 guides to control 40,000 prisoners”, Highlighted Torres. In the Guayas province, where the Litoral Penitentiary is located, there is an average of one agent for every 240 inmates.
Overcrowding is another reason. The country’s prisons have a capacity for 30,000 inmates, however, the percentage of overcrowding this year is around 30%. Torres indicated that this is the result of the fact that, during the government of former President Rafael Correa, 70 crimes punishable by prison were added, including micro-trafficking of drugs: “more or less 40 to 50% of the detainees of the 40,000 detainees are small micro- traffickers. ”, Assured Torres. The latter has turned prisons, in Torres’s words, into ” human warehouses. “
President Guillermo Lasso has declared a state of exception for the country’s prison system and has promised to mobilize around USD 75 million to generate a comprehensive change in prisons, USD 25 million will be allocated to the Litoral Penitentiary.