Police recaptured this morning 65 prisoners who escaped from Latacunga prison. Photo: Ecuador Police
"They have heavy weapons," said a GOE policeman to his colleagues yesterday during the riot in the Litoral Penitentiary. The uniformed officer was part of the elite police group that arrived to control the riots. With shields and special equipment, the group waited behind a wall to carry out their operation. "They are shooting at us," reported another agent to the radio patrol. "Confirm, they are already firing with heavy weapons," he added to his report while his colleagues crowded around waiting to be able to enter the interior of the center. Immediately a burst of gunfire was heard from another police officer in the direction of the prison. "Now, now!" shouted another person, perhaps to indicate that it was time to enter the place.
Policía intenta recuperar el control de Penitenciaría. Bala sin miedo. Reos siguen armados. Control de cárceles es un fracaso total. pic.twitter.com/Ss8K2P1pDn— Jonnathan Carrera (@jcarreraandrade) July 21, 2021
"Police try to regain control of the Penitentiary. Bullet without fear. Inmates remain armed. Prison control is a total failure". Twitter of Jonnathan Carrera
This scene, recently broadcast on Twitter by journalist Jonnathan Carrera, is cut at that moment. This video corresponds to the moment when the police officers were trying to control cellblock 9 of the Penitentiary where the violence began. Marcelo Castillo, Chief of Operations of Zone 8, explained this morning that, in that pavilion, the inmates used firearms while in Pavilion 8 it was visiting hours. The inmates took hostage the women who were visiting their incarcerated relatives. There were 54 women in total, according to Castillo. Three policemen were injured during the raid to free the hostages. The wounded are in good condition.
Before the hostage-taking, a new massacre had taken place in that place. The alert was received by the police at 16:30. They were informed that in the orchard located inside the center there were eight dead prisoners. Franklin Huertas, director of the Litoral Penitentiary, said that the deceased did not participate in the confrontations but that it was possibly a revenge. The prison is completely overcrowded.
After evacuating the hostages, the police entered Pavilion 9, where 1,000 inmates are held. "The ppl (persons deprived of liberty) were found hiding in Pavilion 9, extremely violent, in spite of this, we managed to enter and calm things down", said the police chief.
Why were the women taken hostage? Castillo believes that this served the armed prisoners to divert the attention of the police while they went back to hiding the firearms inside the penitentiary. He affirmed that there was little collaboration from the "authority" that should have been in charge and taking preventive measures against these situations. The National Service of Integral Attention to Persons Deprived of Liberty (SNAI) is the entity in charge of the control of the prisons, whose maximum authority, General Edmundo Moncayo, did not pronounce himself on these facts. On Wednesday afternoon he was dismissed by President Guillermo Lasso.
Police controls after the violence in the Litoral Penitentiary. Photo: Ecuavisa
While this was happening in Guayaquil, the Latacunga prison was going through another riot. Around midnight, the murder of 10 inmates was reported -although the Attorney General's Office updated that figure to 14-. The incidents left 35 inmates wounded, six policemen injured and damage to administrative areas. The authorities have not yet explained what happened in this prison. Through a press release, the Ministry of Government confirmed that a policewoman was raped and that it will denounce this fact to the Prosecutor's Office.
The governor of Cotopaxi, Oswaldo Coronel, told in a press conference this morning that he was able to approach the prison while returning from a trip. "I could hear the detonations and gunshots that were happening inside. The detainees were rioting on the roofs of the wards". He was accompanied by several authorities of the province, such as the Ombudsman's Office, the Prosecutor's Office and police and military chiefs. He said that the situation of the prison has been one of the issues of concern. He confirmed that there is a "great destruction" inside the penitentiary center.
Military arrived at the Litoral Penitentiary to strengthen security. Photo Ap
At 02:30 this morning, the situation was under control, he said. But hours later, new incidents occurred in the medium and maximum security wards, which led to the escape of inmates at around 05:00. SNAI has not detailed how many prisoners in total have escaped, but confirmed that they had recaptured 65 so far. Why did they escape if the situation had been brought under control? Coronel said this was due to the prison's infrastructure being affected. "Both internal and external security, such as fences, mesh, security filters were practically destroyed, which left the center vulnerable. The external perimeter, of military and police, has allowed the recapture," said the official.
Among those recaptured was the aggressor of the police officer who was raped. The police released the photograph of this prisoner.
Between the two centers, 22 prisoners have so far been confirmed dead and some 57 injured..
Neighborhoods helped to capture the fugitives
The communities around the Latacunga prison were alerted by the escape of the prisoners. The digital media of Cotopaxi, Lupa y Cedazo, described how the residents organized themselves to help the police capture them:
The National Police visited truck and bus stops in Saquisilí, Tanicuchí, Guaytacama and other surrounding areas, to advise drivers to be careful about boarding strange people, to avoid possible aggressions.
In groups of neighbors, on Whatsapp, alerts were circulating about men who climbed into public service vans and tried to get them to deviate from the routes or to make them ride out of the province.
Los vecinos de #Chantilín, en #Saquisilí, cercana al #CRS_Cotopaxi, se unieron para enfrentar a los delincuentes fugados. ▶️https://t.co/EQwomjbxPg #Latacunga #PPLs #PenitenciariadelLitoral #Guayaquil pic.twitter.com/dxhsqybC0O— Lupa y cedazo (@lupaycedazo) July 22, 2021
The traditional Thursday market in Saquisili went on normally and the escaped prisoners took advantage of it to get confused among the merchants and buyers; however, the organization of neighbors in some neighborhoods, especially in the parish of Chantilin, allowed them to be arrested in that sector, in the ecological park and other points.
Military personnel were distributed throughout the streets of Saquisili.
Prisoners were also recaptured in Piedra Colorada, El Chasqui and in the southern center of Latacunga, Molinos Poultier sector.
Residents of Saquisili, Chantilin, Guaytacama, Tanicuchi, Pastocalle and other sectors activated Whatsapp groups, secured their homes and even removed clothes from the ropes to prevent prisoners from stealing them and changing clothes in order to mislead the police.
The police raided vehicles on all the highways. In the morning they closed the side road of Latacunga and the old Pan-American highway and diverted the vehicular traffic through Poaló, but later they reestablished the circulation on the main roads.
In the morning, the Governor of Cotopaxi announced that he will accelerate the work of the Provincial Committee of Citizen Security, installed since last week, according to this media. " We must take care of each other, calmly, but also with permanent communication," said Governor Oswaldo Coronel. In the Latacunga prison there are more than six thousand prisoners, which is equivalent to the population of a parish of Latacunga. Its capacity is only 4 thousand.
24 hours of silence among high authorities
President Guillermo Lasso gave a press conference 24 hours after the beginning of the violent events in the prisons. He first referred to the assaulted policewoman and said that he will support her assailant to be punished to the full extent of the law. In a short intervention, also participated the Minister of Government, Alexandra Vela, who added that the assaulted police is being protected.
She praised the work of the police and then referred to the mafias. "Having said this, I want to say the following to the mafias that pretend to intimidate this country: they are wrong. They are wrong if they believe that this government is going to act with the same lukewarmness as the previous ones. You are wrong if you think that our hand will tremble. You will be defeated. We will use all the power of the law to impose the Rule of Law and guarantee peace and human rights in the prisons".
The Head of State declared a state of emergency in the prison system, in order to mobilize all necessary resources to restore order. This is a measure already taken by his predecessor Lenin Moreno, in similar circumstances he declared a state of emergency in 2019 and 2020 after massacres of dozens of inmates. Lasso also announced that military control has been established in the perimeter of access to the centers (filter 1), and police control in filters 2 and 3.
He also dismissed General Edmundo Moncayo as director of SNAI and appointed Colonel Fausto Cobo Montalvo as his replacement. Moncayo was in charge of the SNAI since June 3, 2019. During his tenure, the most violent events have occurred in those centers. In 2019 there were 32 deaths; in 2020, 51; and so far in 2021, 105 deaths. The biggest massacre occurred last February 21 when in four prisons in the country disputes between gangs left 83 dead.
In his first statements, Cobo said that two hours ago he was invited by Lasso to assume responsibility for this crisis. "It is a historic challenge," he said, adding that the prison problem will not be easy to solve, but he promised to achieve it with sufficient political support. Although he did not mention which direction he will take.