Ecuadorian Army retakes control of prison in Guayaquil after a new massacre
The violence has not stopped since Sept. 29. Photo: @LassoGuillermo

Massacres in Ecuador prison leave about 190 dead

Litoral Prison in the port city of Guayaquil, is the epicenter of intense combat between criminal gangs that have left almost 200 dead in a month and a half.


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Although two massacres draw special attention, that of Sept. 29 and, the most recent on Nov. 12, these have not been the only days where violent deaths have occurred inside the Litoral Prison, in Guayaquil. The deadly confrontations have been a constant.

They continue also in spite of President of Ecuador Guillermo Lasso trying to stop the escalation of bloodshed by declaring a state of prison exception in September, and a state of national emergency in October. A by-product of the violence has been the death of victims not even part of the gangs at war.

The wave of violence has also triggered the resignation of the heads of prisons and the Armed Forces of Ecuador.

Overcrowding and gang disputes

According to the Ecuadorian press, overcrowding in the prison exceeds 52% over capacity, to which Pablo Arosemena, the governor of Guayas, pointed out that they are trying to combat the phenomenon with a strategy that includes the transfer of inmates to other prisons, pardons, and the deportation of inmates not born in Ecuador. All are processes that have not progressed fast enough to avoid further human loss.

Likewise, the National Service for Comprehensive Attention to Adults Deprived of Liberty and Adolescent Offenders (SNAI), indicated that only 80 guards are assigned to the Coast, and must be unarmed by law to guard 8,000 prisoners, who are divided into 12 dangerous courtyards.

Gangs in dispute

Ecuadorian authorities point to three local criminal gangs as the cause of the bloody confrontations inside the prison. They are the Choneros, the Lobos and the Tiguerones, who are fighting to the death for control of the distribution of narcotics and the favors of Mexican cartels, such as the Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación.


From short stabbing weapons to grenades that secretly enter the prison, the war within Litoral is much more potent. One of the causes allowing an entire arsenal to enter the penitentiary is the corruption of several of its officials, who are seduced by the powerful budgets of local and Mexican drug trafficking gangs, with operations that extend beyond Guayaquil.

Government vs. Constitutional Court

While several armored tanks surrounding the prison, Lasso has been emphatic in requesting the Constitutional Court to allow him to make use of the tools in his power to face the crisis. Among them is allowing the militarization of prisons — so far, only the army is allowed to monitor the outside of the jail — and the extension of the state of emergency, which was limited to one month by the court.

“As a government, we will bring down the full force of our laws and institutions on the violent. We will mobilize all the necessary resources to guarantee that Ecuador will always be the country of peace that we all love,” said the president on his Twitter account, where he also later said the country would target “the bosses of the mafias.” Lasso concluded by emphasizing that they will expand and apply the theory of authorship by domain of organization. In other words, "the gang leaders will also pay for the crimes they order to commit."


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