Crime & Justice

More than 150 officers taken hostage in Ecuadorian prisons

Quito, Jan 11 (EFE). – 178 prison officials are being held hostage in simultaneous riots in Ecuador’s prisons, after the crisis spread to more penitentiaries on Thursday, prison authorities reported.

Among the hostages are 158 guards and 20 administrators in the southern cities of Machala, Loja, Cuenca and Azogues, the central Latacunga and Ambato and the northern Esmeraldas.

On Thursday morning, the prisons of Machala and Esmeraldas joined the riots, expanding the crisis to a total of seven penitentiaries.

On Wednesday, authorities had reported 139 prisoners, including 125 guards and 14 administrators.

In Esmeraldas, near the border with Colombia, a group of inmates fired shots from inside the prison at members of the Armed Forces who were outside, and who fired back.

There were also incidents in the Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas prison, where three prisoners managed to escape.

On Tuesday, 32 prisoners escaped from the Riobamba prison in the central province of Chimborazo, including Fabricio Colón Pico, leader of the “Los Lobos” criminal gang.

Colón was arrested several days ago and named by Attorney General Diana Salazar for allegedly planning an attack against her.

Before Colón Pico, José Adolfo Macías “‘Fito”, the leader of the criminal gang “Los Choneros”, also escaped, apparently over the weekend.

“Fito” left the Guayaquil Regional Prison in an unknown manner before the authorities could transfer him to a maximum security facility.

At the Latacunga prison, 70 km (43 miles) south of Quito, prisoners could be seen on the prison’s roofs on Wednesday with banners calling for peace.

The riots are part of an escalation of violence by organized crime gangs in Ecuador this week that included kidnappings and attacks on police officers, burning vehicles, explosions, and even the armed assault on a television station in the city of Guayaquil.

The events occurred as the government of President Daniel Noboa prepared to implement a plan to regain control of Ecuador’s prisons.

Many of the country’s penitentiaries are dominated by these criminal groups, whose rivalries have led to the murder of more than 450 prisoners inside the prisons in a series of massacres since 2020.

The violence has also spilled onto the streets, making Ecuador one of the most violent countries in the world, with 45 intentional homicides per 100,000 people in 2023.

After this week’s episodes, the government has declared the “internal armed conflict” and has classified these gangs as terrorist groups and military targets. EFE

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