Inmate transfers possible cause of latest Ecuador prison massacres
Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, Ecuador, May 10 (EFE).- The Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas prison, in north-central Ecuador, still has not recovered from the bloodbath it experienced on Monday morning, when 44 inmates were massacred in a clash between rival gangs, while another 70 of the 220 who escaped during the chaos are still at large.
As of midday on Tuesday, authorities had only been able to identify 21 of the 44 bodies, this massacre being the latest in a series of bloody riots that have taken the lives of more than 400 prisoners since 2020, 63 of them so far this year.
Starting early in the morning, relatives of the victims were banging on the door of the Santo Domingo morgue to try and recover the remains of their loved ones amid wails and tears of grief and sadness, as EFE witnessed.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday security forces managed to recapture 38 of the escapees, bringing to 150 the total number of inmates found of the 220 who managed to flee the facility.
This massacre sparked a nationwide controversy about the causes leading to the extreme violence inside this prison, located about 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of Quito.
Everything points, as Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said, to the massacre being closely linked to a similar incident on April 3 at the prison in the southern Andean city of Cuenca, where in another clash 20 inmates died, while 10 others were injured.
Authorities say that the same rival criminal organizations – Los Lobos and the R7 – are behind both incidents.
Although Carrillo attributed the Santo Domingo massacre to the arrival at the prison of Freddy Anchundia, one of the alleged leaders of R7 whom the authorities blame for the Cuenca massacre, there were many other prisoners transferred from Cuenca to Santo Domingo after the April 3 riot.
The director of the National Comprehensive Attention Service (SNAI) for incarcerated persons, Pablo Ramirez, acknowledged in remarks to the Teleamazonas television channel that 124 prisoners were transferred from Cuenca to Santo Domingo in April.
Those prisoner transfers came in fulfillment of writs of habeas corpus authorized by the Ecuadorian courts, at the request of the prisoners themselves, despite the opposition of the SNAI, the entity tasked with administering Ecuador’s prisons.
The transfers aggravated the overcrowding at the Santo Domingo facility, a prison with a capacity of 916 inmates but which at the end of April was housing more than 1,600, according to SNAI figures.
Meanwhile, in Cuenca, amid rumors of a potential new riot, prison security was reinforced with the deployment of additional police and army troops, along with the stationing of ambulances outside the prison.
At the same time, Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios firmly opposed the arrivals of more prisoners at the Cuenca prison, which is on the outskirts of the city.
“Cuenca has its self-respect. We’re going to take all necessary actions so that peace, security and the freedom of the Cuenca families is protected,” he said in remarks convening a citizens assembly for Tuesday afternoon to demand “no more deception or false promises.”
“The latest riot on April 3 shows that the conditions do not exist for housing more persons deprived of their liberty or guaranteeing the minimum safety conditions to protect the nearby zones and, of course, our city,” he said.
This situation has not gone unnoticed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who on Tuesday pointed to the Ecuadorian government as the party responsible for the deaths of people in its custody and demanded that the incidents be investigated and the judicial and prison systems be reformed.
Recently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report in which it urged the Ecuadorian government to regain control of the prisons, provide dignified living conditions for the inmates and prepare crime prevention policies that do not rely exclusively on imprisonment.
According to the SNAI director, there are currently 33,000 prisoners in Ecuador’s 36 prisons, the capacity of which is just a little over 30,000.
To resolve the prison crisis, the Ecuadorian government is seeking to hire 1,400 new prison guards, grant around 5,000 pardons to inmates convicted of minor crimes and implement the country’s first human rights policy specifically created for the prison population.