As the bodies of the dead were identified Thursday in Cuenca, the prosecutor’s office began reviewing evidence to determine who was responsible for Tuesday’s massacre at the Turi prison and three other prisons in Guayaquil and Latacunga. Included in the evidence are at least 15 videos of the Turi killings posted on social media.
“Fortunately for our work, those responsible recorded the killings and dismemberment of their victims in great detail,” said Azuay chief prosecutor Leonardo Amoroso. “The faces of the killers are clearly visible because no one wore masks.”
He added that identifying the Turi dead was a slow and emotional process. “More than half of the bodies were decapitated and others were mutilated in other ways. We are having to put severed body parts together with torsos. It breaks my heart to ask families to look at this butchery to identify their sons and brothers.”
In Quito on Thursday, the Rehabilitation Services Council, responsible for oversight of the country’s prisons, met to review the riots. “Everyone is stunned by what happened and the inability of the prison staff to control the inmates,” said criminology professor Edgar Parra, who attended the meeting. “It was clearly a case of the animals running the zoo but the people who committed these crimes were far more vicious than any animals I ever heard of.”
The council heard from prison guards in Guayaquil who reported that their superiors had told them to stay out of the maximum security blocks. One guard said that when the violence began, the prisoners barricaded block entrances and set fires to prevent the entry of staff or police.
“Like others in Latin America, this is a prison system that is out of control,” said Parra. “In the prisons housing the most violent criminals, the criminals are the bosses and they bribe, intimidate and extort prison administrators and guards to allow them to control the maximum security areas. If there are not top-to-bottom changes, this violence will repeat.”
As an example of prisoner control, Parra pointed to a press conference held by prisoners Wednesday in Cuenca. In a video of the event, a man tells a large crowd of inmates that Tuesday’s killings were “unfortunate but necessary to restore peace in the prison.” Says Parra: “Look at the video and decide for yourself who is in charge. There is not a prison guard in sight.”
Members of the prison council questioned national prison chief Edmundo Moncayo about how so many weapons were in the hands of dangerous inmates. “How in the hell did they have chain saws inside maximum security in Cuenca?” asked one member. The saws were used to behead and disembowel several of the bodies, according to videos posted on social media. Moncayo said he had no answers to some of the questions but said his office had “a great amount of work to do.”
Moncayo explained that the riots, coordinated by cell phone, were carried out by members of the Los Choneros crime gang against the Los Lobos and Tiguerones gangs, who they blame for the December murder of Los Choneros boss “Rasquiña,” who was gunned down in a Manta mall. Moncayo said the gangs are powerful both inside and outside the prisons and have connections with Mexican drug cartels. “They have access to millions of dollars and operate hit squads throughout Latin America, especially in Mexico and Colombia. Unfortunately, we are next door to Colombia.”