A new episode of Ecuador's prison crisis Sunday has resulted in the death of yet another 12 inmates following clashes at the correctional facility in the southern city of Cuenca. Last year, 316 prisoners were killed in fights between rival gangs.
Sunday's was the first large-scale riot of 2022, just days after President Guillermo Lasso had boasted an improvement, with only 8 inmates killed in the first quarter of 2022 in separate incidents, against 83 in the same period of the previous year.
The 12 fatalities were found on the outside of the wards, according to Government Minister Patricio Carrillo, who also said during a press conference that the authorities were trying to determine whether there were more casualties in addition to the wounded.
According to Carrillo, the clashes began around 1.30 am local time because there is an organization that wants to have absolute power inside the center and there are some cells that have rebelled against them.Ecuadorian authorities have taken steps to keep people who belong to the same organizations and are housed in other prisons nationwide to follow suit. Carrillo insisted the administration of Guillermo Lasso makes every effort to prevent those who despise life from continuing to incite war in prisons. We work so that those deprived of liberty can live in peace in social rehabilitation centers, he said.
No escapees have been registered, while 90 prisoners were evacuated, 10 of them wounded who were treated by the Ministry of Health. Some 800 troops were deployed to control the situation, it was also reported.
Castillo stressed that inmates involved in these violent acts need to be deprived of their prison benefits. We are going to clean the Augean stable that the penitentiary system has become. The national government will do everything necessary to achieve this. Ecuador cannot stand any more irrationality and violence.
On February 23, 2021, 33 inmates were also killed at Cuenca's facility, most of them decapitated and dismembered, as part of a simultaneous attack coordinated by criminal gangs in different prisons that left 78 dead nationwide.
Last month, Amnesty International (AI) mentioned in its annual report that, by the end of 2020, at least 316 inmates had been killed in clashes between rival gangs inside Ecuador's prisons, in several episodes that shook the national conscience for the cruelty of the killings.
Of the total number of murders in Ecuadorian prisons, 79 had taken place in February 2021, 119 on September 28, and 62 between November 12 and 13. Most of the crimes were linked to drug cartels from Colombia and Mexico.
The deaths occurred in a context of overcrowding, negligence, and inaction in guaranteeing the human rights of the prison population, said AI.
As of November 29, 2021, there were 36,599 persons deprived of liberty in 36 centers, with an increase of 469% over the last 20 years, and 40% of them were in provisional detention, awaiting sentencing, according to a recent report published by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
In that report, the IACHR called on the Ecuadorian State to regain control of prisons and provide decent conditions for inmates and devise a crime prevention policy that does not prioritize imprisonment as the main strategy.
In this regard, the Lasso government launched in February the country's first public policy with a focus on human rights for inmates, to which it allocated US$ 26 million, while it expects to pardon some 5,000 people arrested for minor offenses and hire 1,400 new prison guards.