44 killed in Ecuador prison riot (May 10, 2022)
At least 44 inmates were killed in Ecuador's latest prison riot, yesterday. The uprising started in the morning and ended in the afternoon when more than 200 police commandos retook control of the maximum-security wing of the Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas prison. Gruesome pictures on social media showed mutilated bodies strewn in a courtyard in the jail, images that have become almost commonplace in Ecuador. It was the country's sixth prison massacre since the beginning of 2021, with a collective death toll of nearly 400 inmates. The most recent prison uprising was last month, in which 20 inmates were killed. (Guardian, Associated Press)
Authorities said 220 prisoners escaped during yesterday's violence, of which 112 had been recaptured. Most of those killed were stabbed to death, according to Patricio Carrillo, Ecuador’s interior minister, who noted that the riot was caused by a conflict between criminal gangs. (New York Times) On April 30, Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in three coastal provinces: Esmeraldas, Guayas and Manabí. Throughout 2021 and this year, violence between drug gangs in these areas has soared, reports InSight Crime.
The violence has spiked to unprecedented levels fuelled by rivalry between international drug trafficking gangs vying for control of lucrative cocaine trade routes. The evolution of Ecuador's violent clashes between criminal groups follows the evolution of rivalries at the heart of Colombia's and Mexico's drug wars have evolved over the years, according to InSight Crime, with a repeating pattern of splintering groups, changing leaders and evolving trafficking routes.
But massive overpopulation in penitentiaries contributes to violence, reported InSight Crime last year. The country's prisons house 35,000 people and are overcrowded at about 15% beyond maximum capacity. A government committee created last year to study conditions in the country's prisons found that despicable conditions had turned prisons into "human warehouses and centers of torture."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said the system is blighted by state abandonment and the absence of a comprehensive policy, as well as poor conditions for inmates. (Reuters) At least 316 people died while incarcerated in Ecuador in 2021, according to a report in March released by the commission. The majority of those killed were young and accused of minor crimes, and some were waiting to be released, the report found. (Washington Post)
Some advocates also say government apathy towards inmates is behind the violent scenes. Even in instances when intelligence networks or family members have warned of imminent bloodshed, authorities have been slow to take action, Vianca Gavilanes, a lawyer for the inmates' rights NGO Dignity Foundation, told AFP last month.
At the time of yesterday's riot, the Santo Domingo de las Tsáchilas prison housed more than 1,600 detainees, nearly double its original capacity of 905, according to official records. Only 25 officers were on duty for the entire prison
In February, President Guillermo Lasso began a new policy aimed at increasing access to food, health care and work, among other things, for prisoners. To help reduce overcrowding, he also ordered the release of about 5,000 prisoners, including those who had committed minor crimes and had served more than half their sentence. (New York Times)
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