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Ecuador's government faces prison violence problem

Guillermo Lasso's government must deal with the rise of brawls and murders in various prisons in the South American country that have caused social alarm
Ecuador Prison

 -   Ecuador Prison

Nearly 120 dead and more than 80 wounded were the result of the latest clashes this week inside the prison at the Centro de Privación de la Libertad Número 1 in Guayaquil, one of Ecuador's maximum security prisons. 

The brawls were perpetrated by rival gangs fighting inside the prison and are linked to various internal problems such as drug trafficking, corruption of officials or the overcrowding suffered within the prison infrastructure itself. 

The reform of the penitentiary system is one of the pending issues of the previous government of Lenín Moreno (2017-2021) that the new president Guillermo Lasso, with a more conservative profile, must now tackle. 

Guillermo Lasso, presidente de Ecuador

After the latest incidents, the Minister of Government, Alexandra Vela, and the director of the National Service of Integral Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty and Adolescent Offenders (SNAI), Bolívar Garzón, announced strong measures to tackle the prison crisis, especially to reduce the huge number of prisoners in prison facilities. To combat overcrowding, measures have been taken such as granting thousands of pardons to very old prisoners, disabled women and the terminally ill, along with the return of foreign prisoners, the latter initiative being linked to the Latin American country's request for international cooperation to tackle the prison crisis. This call for help was made by Ecuador's own foreign minister, Mauricio Montalvo. 

The government also plans to remodel the prison complex in Guayaquil and distribute prisoners to different areas to avoid confrontations, as reported by the BBC. The prison problem is becoming a high-profile issue due to the social alarm it is generating. 

One of the latent problems is the power struggle between rival gangs within certain prisons. President Guillermo Lasso described this power struggle, which leads to unacceptable and dangerous situations, as "regrettable". 

Cárcel de Ecuador

Added to this is the issue of drug trafficking in prison. According to the specialised website Insight Crime, Ecuador has become in recent years a "cocaine highway to the United States and Europe" and this situation also affects the prison world, a report also echoed by the BBC. Last year, the National Police seized 128.4 tonnes of drugs, the largest seizure in the last decade, according to data from the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Interior. 

In this regard, Fausto Cobo, former director of SNAI, said on the social network Twitter that the crisis in the country's prisons stems from the influence of the drug trafficking world on the Ecuadorian state as a whole. 

Meanwhile, police and military groups intervened this Saturday in the maximum security prison in Guayaquil, next to the prison where a massacre took place last Tuesday that left around 120 dead. Some 1,000 military and police officers entered both detention centres, where gunshots were heard, according to EFE news agency. 

Ejército de Ecuador

The police reported that during the intervention in the Zonal 8 detention centre, the agents "were met with gunfire from the prisoners", but immediately managed to neutralise the action, according to the EFE news agency.

Latin America Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra