QUITO (HPD) — A thousand prisoners were transferred on Wednesday from the Litoral Penitentiary in Guayaquil, one of the most violent prisons in Ecuador, to other prisons after a violent day with explosive attacks and shootings against police officers and facilities that left Five deceased officers.
In turn, a civilian was shot dead in an attack on a health center in that city, a Health Ministry official told The Associated Press, asking not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The uptick in violence on Tuesday led President Guillermo Lasso to decree a new state of emergency, the sixth since his government began in May 2021. The declaration includes a curfew from 9:00 p.m. until dawn and the limitation of rights and governs the provinces of Guayas and Esmeraldas, the epicenter of the attacks perpetrated the day before, allegedly by criminal organizations that opposed the relocation of some imprisoned leaders, the government reported.
The transfer of prisoners is a prison system response to prison overcrowding, according to the official explanation. The director of the National Service for Persons Deprived of Liberty, Guillermo Rodríguez, told journalists that the relocation of the 1,002 inmates affected two pavilions of the Litoral prison, the largest in the country, where there was overcrowding of more than 100 %. He assured that these facilities will be remodeled and, if necessary, demolished.
“At the moment no news has been reported (in prisons). We are with our personnel in the territory so they can verify the situation, ”he added. A third of the transferred prisoners were relocated to El Rodeo prison, in the province of Manabí, some 200 kilometers away. The others remained in the Guayaquil regional prison, very close to the center from which they were transferred.
The entity that manages Ecuadorian prisons specified that in the Penitentiary of the Coast, where the largest massacres among prisoners have been perpetrated, there were 5,246 detainees until the weekend and that now, after the transfer, 4,244 inmates remained.
To mobilize the prisoners, a combined operation of hundreds of police and military was prepared.
Defense Minister Luis Lara assured at a press conference that as part of the state of emergency, the Armed Forces have mobilized their units to support the work of the police in the face of “criminal violence associated with drug trafficking and terrorism.”
The explosive attacks on Tuesday left no civilian victims but caused the early closure of commercial activity and the suspension of face-to-face classes in some cities, including Guayaquil, 270 kilometers southwest of the capital, and neighboring Durán.
For two years, Ecuador’s state prisons have become the scene of bloody clashes between rival groups of prisoners, some related to Colombian and Mexican cartels that are vying for control of routes and territories for drug distribution nationally and internationally.
According to figures from the Service for the Attention of Persons Deprived of Liberty, last year 316 inmates were killed by their colleagues. So far this year there have been 106 fatalities.
Ecuador’s prison system is designed for around 30,000 people but as of last month there were some 35,000 inmates in the 53 state prisons.