As many as 2,000 prisoners will be pardoned in Ecuador, the head of the country’s prison authority has announced, as the South American country tries to reduce overcrowding in its detention centers after a deadly riot this week.
Bolivar Garzon, director of the SNAI Prison Authority, said on Friday that the government would prioritize older and female inmates, as well as those with disabilities and terminal illnesses, for release.
At least 118 prisoners were killed and another 79 injured the riot on Tuesday at the Penitenciaria del Litoral in the southern city of Guayaquil, the deadliest case of prison violence in Ecuador’s history.
The country’s prisons currently hold about 39,000 inmates, Garzon said.
He also said Tuesday’s riots were fueled by “a battle for control by organized crime groups”.
Ecuador has seen several outbreaks of violence in its prisons in recent months as officials say gangs partnering with transnational criminal groups compete over drug smuggling routes.
Seventy-nine prisoners died in February when riots broke out in three prisons simultaneously, while in July 27 prisoners were killed at the Litoral facility. In September, a prison was attacked by drones, but no deaths were reported.
Ecuador has sent 3,600 police and military reinforcements to prisons across the country to maintain order, Interior Minister Alexandra Vela told reporters on Friday.
She added that forensic units had identified 41 of the victims of Tuesday’s violent attack and had turned over the bodies of 21 of the victims to their families.
Dozens of inmates’ relatives have gathered outside a Guayaquil morgue in search of information about their loved ones. At least six victims have been beheaded, authorities say.
Henry Coral, a police officer, asked family members to speed up the identification of bodies by informing authorities of any tattoos, scars or other distinguishing marks of inmates believed to have been murdered. Some bodies were mutilated or burned, making identification more difficult.
Eduardo Montes, 60, was waiting for news about his 25-year-old brother Vicente Montes, who will be released in a month.
“They sent us a photo where you can see the head of one victim, and we think it’s my brother, but we don’t know if he’s really dead or if he’s still alive,” Montes said. “I have hope that he is still alive and that they release him.”
Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso said on Wednesday: a state of emergency in the prison system, which gave the government powers, including the deployment of police and soldiers in detention centers.
Dozens of police and military vehicles, as well as ambulances, flew into the Litoral prison complex on Thursday as helicopters flew over the area.
“It is regrettable that the prisons are being turned into territories for power struggles by criminal gangs,” Lasso said, adding that he would act with “absolute determination” to regain control of the Litoral prison and prevent the violence from spreading. to other facilities.
Images circulating on social media showed dozens of bodies in the prison’s pavilions 9 and 10 and scenes that looked like battlefields. The fighting was with firearms, knives and bombs, officials said.
“There has not been an incident comparable to this in the history of the country,” said Ledy Zuniga, the former president of Ecuador’s National Rehabilitation Council.
Zuniga, who also served as the country’s justice minister in 2016, said it regretted that no steps had been taken to prevent another massacre after the deadly prison riot in February.
Lasso said care points had been set up for relatives of the detainees, where they could receive food and psychological support.
He added that a program to address the condition of the country’s prisons would be accelerated, starting with investments in infrastructure and technology at the Litoral prison.