Prison crisis in Ecuador: «massive» operation launched in Guayaquil prison

President Guillermo Lasso announced on Monday that a police and army operation was underway in the Guayaquil prison, saying that Ecuador is «seriously threatened» by drug trafficking mafias. 

Ecuador «is seriously threatened from the outside by the drug trafficking mafias, the same mafias that claim to be taking control of all the country’s prisons and imposing insecurity on the streets,» President Guillermo Lasso announced on Monday. Promising «joint actions» by the state to put an end to the repeated massacres between prisoners, he said the country was facing «one of the biggest crises of recent decades».

The head of state announced that the «national police and the armed forces have entered the Guayaquil penitentiary in a massive operation, taking control of the facilities for an indefinite period of time».

Soldiers armed with rifles entered the perimeter of the Guayas 1 prison, which includes several security rings, AFP journalists noted during the day. But they had not yet entered the pavilions where the prisoners live, according to a military source. These 1,000 police and military personnel entered Guayas 1 «to deploy operational actions to control access and the external and internal perimeter», according to the authorities.

The operation was carried out «in compliance with all the security parameters and in strict compliance with the legal provisions in force», President Lasso assured.

New acts of «savagery» in Guayaquil prison

The vast prison complex in Guayaquil was the scene on Friday and Saturday of new clashes between rival gangs of inmates, which left 68 dead and 25 injured. Using knives, firearms and explosives, prisoners attacked the occupants of another unit of the prison, which houses 8,500 inmates and is 60% overcrowded, after sabotaging the electricity.

The authorities denounced the «savagery» and «barbarity» of the assailants, who were shown in videos posted on social networks lashing out with knives and sticks at bodies piled up and charred in a yard.
A «leadership struggle» after a gang leader was released from prison last week is believed to be behind the new violence, according to the police.
The Guayaquil prison complex is divided into 12 wards, where members of at least seven criminal organisations, often rivals, with links to the Mexican cartels of Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generacion, are held separately. At the end of September, the Guayaquil prison complex was the scene of the biggest massacre in Ecuador’s prison history and one of the worst in Latin America. During brawls between rival gangs, 119 people were killed and some inmates were dismembered, decapitated or burned. Since the beginning of the year, 320 inmates have died in different episodes of violence in the country’s prisons.

Political conspiracy suggested

On Monday morning, President Lasso «accepted the resignation» of the head of the Joint Command, Vice Admiral Jorge Cabrera, and the director of the agency in charge of prisons (SNAI), Bolivar Garzon. New appointments were announced in the aftermath and Guillermo Lasso convened a crisis cabinet on Monday in Guayaquil (southwest), the country’s second city and largest port.

In the afternoon, presidential spokesman Carlos Jijon hinted at the existence of a political plot to destabilise the government of the conservative president, who has been implicated in the Pandora Papers for alleged tax fraud.

«The real objective (of the massacre) was to commit an act of terrorism that would shock the nation,» Carlos Jijon said, adding that it was not just «a confrontation between prison gangs or gangs» but «an extremely serious situation with political ramifications.

A «state of emergency» declared in October

Ecuador’s 65 prisons are 30% overcrowded. Weapons of all kinds, drugs and mobile phones are circulating in large numbers.

Located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s main producers of cocaine, and used as a transit zone for shipments to the United States and Europe, Ecuador is facing a rise in drug-related crime.

On 18 October, the President declared a «state of emergency» throughout the country to combat this crime, which has claimed the lives of nearly 1,900 people since January. Another «state of exception» was declared in the prisons, with military reinforcements. However, the Constitutional Court has partially limited its duration and forbids the military from entering prisons.