SANTO DOMINGO DE LOS COLORADOS: Two hundred escaped detainees were “recaptured” by security forces on Tuesday, the day after a mass escape from a prison in northern Equateur following a deadly riot, a “butchery” according to grieving relatives the victims.
“So far, 200 prisoners have been recaptured” by the security forces, thanks to police and army patrols and checkpoints, the chief of police operations, General Geovanny Ponce.
According to the latest official report, at least 44 prisoners died in clashes between two rival gangs on Monday in Bellavista prison, in the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, about 80 km west of Quito.
Ten other prisoners were injured, as well as a policeman, according to the authorities.
A total of 220 prisoners escaped as a result of the violence, according to police statements.
Two of those killed are of Venezuelan nationality, and 41 bodies have been identified so far, according to General Ponce, who spoke of a return to “total calm” in the prison.
The authorities are offering up to $3,000 in rewards to those who help capture the twenty or so prisoners still missing.
President Guillermo Lasso said on Tuesday his government was waging an “unconventional war” against a “new enemy” in Ecuador, during a meeting with an Israeli security firm in Tel Aviv where he was on a visit to provide Ecuador technologies to combat the violence that is also spreading in the streets.
On Tuesday, desperate and in tears, dozens of parents and relatives of prisoners waited outside Bellavista prison awaiting news of their loved ones, AFP noted.
Soldiers and soldiers were deployed in and around the establishment. AFP also observed men in uniform rounding up around 80 detainees believed to have been recaptured in recent hours.
“They don’t give us any information. They say young men escaped for their lives, others are going to be transferred,” said Leisi Zambrano, a 48-year-old housewife with no news of her brother.
As soon as she heard about the clashes, Ms Zambrano said she rushed to the prison in the early hours of the morning, along with other family members.
“We heard the prisoners calling for help, that we don’t let them die”, she says, commenting: “It’s a butcher’s shop inside”.
In the prison, AFP journalists noted burned facades and a hole in the wall which would have been used for the escape.
Horrifying videos are circulating on social media showing a pile of bloody, naked and mutilated bodies on the hemoglobin-covered floor of a common room. Or corpses littering the corridors of the prison, next to mattresses that the attackers probably tried to set on fire.
According to Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo, members of the Los Lobos (The Wolves) gang “attacked” members of the rival R7 faction with knives.
Authorities also found rifles, pistols, grenades and ammunition.
In an attempt to stem the violence, six leaders of these gangs have since been transferred by helicopter to two high-security prisons elsewhere in the country.
With a capacity of 1,200 places, the Bellavista prison accommodates 1,700 prisoners, reflecting the prison overcrowding in all prisons in Ecuador.
“These disturbing incidents once again underline the urgent need for a comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system,” said the spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Clashes, often extremely violent, are recurrent in Ecuadorian prisons, where nearly 400 detainees have died since February 2021, including these latest clashes.
According to the government, rival gangs of drug traffickers, infiltrated or controlled by Mexican cartels, are waging an all-out war for control of overcrowded prisons, a war that authorities have so far been powerless to stem.
What happened in Bellavista prison “will be reflected in the neighborhoods (of the cities) where the gangs that clashed operate,” human rights activist Luis Saavedra told AFP.
“The more violence there is in prisons, the more murders there will be in these neighborhoods”, he estimated, while the quantities of drugs seized in the country continue to climb (210 tons in 2021, already 70 tons for the beginning of 2022).
Bordered by Colombia and Peru, the world’s largest cocaine producers, Ecuador serves as a port of departure for illicit shipments, mainly to the United States and Europe.
The country has recorded more than 1,200 murders in the first four months of 2022.
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