Ecuador vows to regain control of prisons amid wave of violence
Ecuador he maintains heightened security amid a rising wave of violence that has left scores of police dead and prompted President Guillermo Laso to declare a 45-day state of emergency in the states of Guayas and Esmeraldas.
National Security Secretary Diego Ordoñez vowed Thursday that the government would take back Ecuador’s penitentiaries, sites of repeated bloodshed, and implement other anti-crime operations after an emergency council meeting.
Ecuadorian police chief Fausto Salinas announced during a press conference on Tuesday that at least five Ecuadorian policemen were killed in the explosive attacks.
Salinas said three explosions were reported in Esmeraldas on the same day: two car bombs and one near the Community Police Department. He added that the wave of attacks started in response to the transfer of dozens of prisoners to other prisons in the country.
President Lasso has repeatedly blamed organized drug gangs for violence in prisons and throughout Ecuador, a key transit point for cocaine from South America to the United States and Asia.
Ecuadorian prisons are chronically overcrowded. In July 2021, then-chief of the prison, Eduardo Moncayo, told local media that the Littoral penitentiary was the most overcrowded in the country, with more than 9,000 inmates in a 5,000-person facility.
The prison system was highly trained From September 2021, prison clashes involving automatic weapons and even grenades.
According to Ecuador’s SNAI prison service, more than 300 inmates were killed in prison violence in 2021, and more than 23 people were killed in a prison riot in the north of the country in May.
Ecuadorian government ministers blamed the attacks on the government’s efforts to fight organized crime.
“We will not lower our bodyguard, they are not going to lower the morale of the police. The power of the state cannot give way to organized crime. The police cannot appear overwhelmed,” Interior Minister Juan Zapata said Tuesday morning.
According to Ecuador’s prison service, SNAI, the reason for the transfers, which began on Tuesday, was to “reduce overcrowding, improve infrastructure and security conditions.” SNAI also tweeted that 1,002 prisoners had been transferred from Ecuador’s most brutal prison, Guayaquil, to prisons in the country.
Defense Minister Luis Lara said the attacks were carried out in response to “the firm determination of the national government to take back control of the prisons and eradicate the drug business in the country”.
He said the violence in Guayas and Esmeraldas was linked to drug trafficking and organized crime.
He added that about 1,400 Armed Forces personnel were stationed in Guayaquil and more would be added this week.
“What happened in Guayaquil and Esmeraldas is devastating. Criminal groups will not be able to take over the country,” Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguin wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Full support to our president Guillermo Lasso, our armed forces, the police. This should be a national crusade. International support has been key to this crusade.”
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