Prison Massacre: Unprecedented Violence in Ecuador


Almost three weeks have passed since Ecuador experience the most violent incident in the history of its prisons. On February 23, four riots took place in different prisons of Guayaquil, Cuenca, and Latacunga. The altercations resulted in 79 deaths which is more than all the deaths recorded last year in 48 prisons. 

Several bodies were beheaded and dismembered by prisoners with machetes and chainsaws. The most dreadful thing was that some prisoners even handled the mutilated bodies’ members as trophies later. While this was happening, shocking videos that showed all the horrors occurring inside the prisons started circulating through media. The relatives of the prisoners awaited news about the fate of their relatives at the gates of the prisons, many fearing the worst. 

The director of the National Service for Comprehensive Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty (SNAI), Edmundo Moncayo, attributed the riots to the clash between two criminal organizations: Los Choneros and Los Largartos. Their dispute was all about the control of the prisons and the drug trafficking routes that exceed the border of the country. 

The main antecedent to this devastating incident and the reason why the conflict between the gangs escalated that badly is the assassination of the leader of Los Choneros. Jorge Luis Zambrano, also known as ‘Rasquiña’, was murdered last December, shortly after being from prison.

 According to the report of La Posta, this man was the one who maintained control of the prisons and not the Ecuadorian police. But the alliances that Zambrano had established crumbled down after his death. The director of the National Service for Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty, Edmundo Moncayo, said: “We expected an immediate reaction after the murder of ‘Rasquiña’, but it was delayed.”

Internal sources claim that the people inside knew before the massacre happened that something like that was going to occurred soon, that it was just a matter of time. According to the daily El Comercio, when the leaders of Los Choneros and Los Lagartos “found out that their bosses were going to be attacked with firearms, they immediately got up.”

It goes without saying that one of the main reasons the situation escalated so severely is the authorities’ late response and the country’s poor prison management After receiving emergency calls from the centers, the police tried to enter these centers to control the situation but found the doors locked and arson that blocked their way. 

Not a single guard can be seen in any of these videos and images recorded by the prisoners. Nor are there any alarms or traces of any helicopter trying to put an end to the carnage. Is not the first time cases like this happen. The worst part is they occur in broad daylight, so what is wrong with Ecuador’s prisons?

There are several. “Here, it is only about surviving. The prisons in Ecuador are no man’s land,” says the German jurist Stefan Krauth who worked as international aid advising the country’s prison administration to DW. 

To mention a few, the prisons are totally overcrowded. In Ecuador, a guard is responsible for 26 prisoners while the United Nations recommends a ratio of 1 to 10, meaning that Ecuador lacks 3000 prison guards. In 2009 there were only 11,500 people in prison in the country and today, there are more than 40,000. Regardless of this, the government now only wants to spend 91 million dollars in the prison system when 153 million were spent four years ago.

The jurist Krauth indicates that to avoid cases like these that continue to happen in the future, then it is necessary to modify the prison policy of Ecuador. After all, “you cannot lock up 40,000 people and want that to cost nothing.” 

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