This AP image shows a dead prisoner on the roof of the Penitenciaría del Litoral. Photo: AP
Please, gentlemen, I beg you, let the military come in. That was the plea of an inmate of the Litoral Penitentiary while he was transmitting from his cell phone the confrontations that took place last night and early this morning. He was asking for help amidst the sounds of bullets, bombs and screams of other inmates who accompanied him.
The scene corresponds to a new mass killing inside Ecuadorian prisons. It is the fourth one registered so far this year: 80 dead on February 23, 22 on July 21, 119 on September 28 and 68 between yesterday and today. If these figures are added to the deaths in other incidents, the violent deaths in these centers total at least 306, a number that could increase. Until the closing of this edition, there were still confrontations in the Penitenciará.
The inmate described live what today the Attorney General's Office confirmed with a figure of 68 dead and 25 wounded. Although not even in the official statistics there were no coincidences. Minutes before the statement of the Attorney General's Office, the governor of Guayas, Pablo Arosemena, spoke of 58 dead and 12 wounded.
It all started on Friday night around 19:00. At that time came the alert. The Police reported that by means of drones they spotted three "free wards wandering around the prison, armed and with explosives," said Police Commander Tanya Varela. She again mentioned that the events referred to a power dispute to take over the wards.
In a scene hard to believe people connected to the inmate's signal were asking for their relatives and close ones. "We know that they are in the Perimetral but they do not enter, many people are wounded, others are dead, I regret to inform you that one of my comrades died due to a bomb", said the inmate from the most violent prison in the country.
Despite information coming out from inside the prison, police intervention was delayed. Varela said that they did not act immediately due to lack of conditions. At 2:20am, seven hours after the violence began, the police decided to enter. Varela described that a sweep was made throughout the center while the inmates were demanded to enter their cells.
"Once we arrived we were able to verify very intense crossings of bullets, very close to the entrance doors, detonations, a situation of savagery", said the Governor. According to Arosemena, the evaluation made by the Police of risk to life was 90%, so they did not intervene. Therefore, only tear gas was used from outside. Arosemena received instructions from the Presidency to go to the Penitentiary at 21:00, where he remained in the company of the National Police until the early hours of this morning.
Arosemena said that, in the afternoon and evening hours, the Police were at the Penitentiary when they began to hear detonations. The prisoners who were not in their cells tried to corner the prisoners in cellblock 2, where the disturbances began. There are 700 people in this cellblock. But most of the deaths occurred in the transitory area. Carlos Jijón, spokesman for the Presidency, explained that this place was left unprotected because the police went to Pavilion 2, which was taken advantage of by the attackers.
The official death toll is 58 inmates and 12 wounded in a fourth prison massacre. Photo: El Heraldo/EFE
BUT MOST OF THE DEATHS OCCURRED IN THE TRANSITORY AREA. CARLOS JIJÓN, SPOKESMAN FOR THE PRESIDENCY, EXPLAINED THAT THIS PLACE WAS LEFT UNPROTECTED BECAUSE THE POLICE WENT TO PAVILION 2. THAT MOMENT WAS TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF BY THE ATTACKERS.
Hundreds of people came to the outside of the Penitentiary to know about the status of their imprisoned relatives. Photos: Twitter Johanna Ramos
Arosemena affirmed that the confrontations were due to the departure of Alex Salazar, leader of Los Tiguerones, from the penitentiary. He obtained his pre-release last Wednesday after serving 60% of his sentence. For this reason, other wards tried to enter and break them.
"Once they open that wall I don't know what will happen, they want to get in," were the stories that continued for more than an hour from the inmate's mobile device. Apparently a group of inmates were trying to enter one of the wards and were reportedly armed. "There are too many police and military outside but they don't get in," he said. Meanwhile, the gunfire increased in intensity.
The lighting system had been destroyed amid dynamite detonations and burnt mattresses that produced toxic fumes. Arosemena confirmed that despite this scenario, the Police entered the pavilion. According to the Governor, the Armed Forces provided support from the outside since the Constitutional Court (CC) allows them to operate.
President Guillermo Lasso questioned this decision of the CC: "We need suitable constitutional tools to protect the population, recover order in the prisons and fight against the mafias that profit from the chaos", he told them. The CC rejected his statements for pretending to "evade his own responsibilities". All official statements only appeared in the morning hours.
URGENTE | La Corte Constitucional se pronuncia ante los graves hechos suscitados en los centros de rehabilitación social y hace un llamado a la Función Ejecutiva para que implemente acciones concretas y adecuadas. #CrisisCarcelaria pic.twitter.com/QDO9tXAk85— Corte Constitucional (@CorteConstEcu) November 13, 2021
"They have killed almost everyone in the cellblock, don't think that all of us who are here are bad," said the inmate. "They killed another one," were some of the shouts that could be heard on the transmission in the midst of gunfire that was already an ambient sound. The only thing that could be seen was an exterior roof from what looked like a cell. Thus, in the dark with bars in the background, the story went on.
"We are surprised by the way in which the leaders of criminal organizations have been released, creating these voids within the wards," said Commander Varela. According to the police institution they are providing support for the specific protection of the affected pavilion. Varela said in a press conference that most of the prisoners died in a transitory area, although they did not give details of the list of the deceased.
Lasso was in the Security Committee, in the ECU 911 of Samborondón, with the high command of the Police and representatives of the civil society to achieve a dialogue inside the prison, among them the archbishop of Guayaquil and the activist Nelsa Curbelo.
Both he and Mayor Cynthia Viteri received criticism in social networks, because while the massacre was taking place they were at a gala reception for the anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Indiferencia oficial. Mientras se producía un sangriento motín en la #PenitenciariaDelLitoral, las máximas autoridades locales y nacionales departían en una recepción por el aniversario del Cuerpo de Infantería de Marina de Estados Unidos. #Guayaquil pic.twitter.com/GB6v1ZNOFX— LaHistoria (@lahistoriaec) November 13, 2021
The inmate's words were the only information circulating until this morning. "We have been holding out since 7 o'clock at night, they are giving them time to enter, we have not eaten since yesterday," he said. In the midst of the pleas for the entry of the police, videos began to circulate with walls being knocked down and inmates shouting from their cells. "Here is a drone, but it does absolutely nothing, it only films, the helicopter came to see everything and left," said the prisoner from his cell.
SNAI informed that the inmates of CPL Guayas N1 and CPL Azuay N1 refused to eat food as a show of solidarity for the events that occurred. The director of the latter summoned the Governor of the province and ward coordinators to analyze the situation.
The governor said in a press conference today that they are fighting against drug trafficking, against criminal gangs that fight among themselves for territory inside and outside the prison. "When there is action there are consequences, it is important to confront narco-influence," he added.
The police have 300 members in a first filter and 400 more in the interior in search of retaking the penitentiary order. Commander Varela added that they are bringing in reinforcements in the face of what has become "a modus operandi inside the penitentiary centers, which last for several days". This materialized in the afternoon because there were new confrontations.
Around 17:00, Jijón reported incidents between pavilions 7 and 12, inmates of the latter sought to force their way into that place. After 20:00, Jijon gave the last report and assured that the situation had been controlled with the presence of 900 troops. Although Lasso was expected to make a statement this day, he did not arrive.
Translated by Manuel Novik