Ecuador prison riot leaves dozens dead; protesters sparked violence

Ecuadorans were still coming to grips Saturday with a prison uprising, one that saw 30 bodies decomposing on a prison rooftop, that left numerous policemen injured, spurred authorities to evacuate the building and raised questions about conditions at El Buen Pastor.

Protesters had caused chaos in the El Buen Pastor jail on Friday afternoon. Some threw stones and set fire to the jail and wounded dozens of authorities. Authorities pulled out of the prison and killed many of the inmates who took control of the building.

Guillermo Espinos, secretary for the national police, on Saturday said the detainees, most of whom had gang affiliations, may have been able to overpower guards inside.

The prisons chief, Carlos Mejia, said on TV Friday that inmates with gold teeth had “arrested whoever they wanted.”

While the attack drew attention to the conditions in the country’s jails, it took a strange turn when authorities brought up the possibility of protesters being the ones behind the fire, which was linked to post-riot celebrations.

Gonzalo Ruiz, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said at a news conference Saturday that about a hundred inmates had been able to destroy the jail on their own by starting fires. And in reality, this was the original point of attack for the authorities.

“The security forces that intervened had to take offensive measures, but it was they who were killed by their own group,” he said.

Intense gunfire was heard Friday afternoon at the jail, following an uprising by detainees at the facility known as El Buen Pastor.

The public prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the eruption was likely a spontaneous protest and not a riot. One source with knowledge of the incident said it was set off by authorities.

A prison guard at the El Buen Pastor jail, a sprawling complex in the Pacific coastal city of Guayaquil, told The Washington Post that the riot started about 2 p.m. on Friday. The guard said he overheard the inmates tell each other, in through the wire roof, that they had been given three hours to break away from the prison.

Alex Nazario, a former prisoner who was briefly released from the El Buen Pastor jail after a fight in 1994, said that inmates had been holding hunger strikes for the past month.

He said in an interview that the riot started at about 3 p.m.

Guillermo Espinos, the police secretary, said all but a handful of the 30 bodies had been removed from the roof of the jail. Those remains that haven’t been removed will undergo DNA testing, authorities said.

Rains fell through the night Friday, making some of the bodies flood the rooftop and cause further decomposition, the security minister said.

Rising tensions over prison conditions were reflected in demonstrations in this South American nation and across the region.

The country’s two largest unions staged protests throughout Ecuador on Friday, and the country’s president, Lenin Moreno, said police on high alert would be deployed throughout the country.

Moreno’s government has been making structural changes to its prison system in recent months, including transferring a number of high-profile inmates from institutions that were considered overcrowded. The tougher line is seen as a concession to civil and political leaders to deal with this issue as protests gain steam in several parts of Latin America.

However, Moreno also made clear that he would be unrelenting in rooting out attacks on authorities.

He announced the creation of a special commission to investigate the massacre. The commission’s search will include both those who contributed to the unrest as well as those who orchestrated the prison fire.

Leave a Comment