Although he admits it is too early to say whether the trend will continue, Interior Minister Juan Zapata said Friday that murders in four coastal provinces have dropped by 20% following the transfer of more than 2,000 prisoners from the Guayaquil’s Litoral prison to other facilities. He also credits the state of emergency declared in early November by President Guillermo Lasso with an overall reduction of crime.
The prisoners who were transferred were members of criminal gangs believed to be involved in criminal drug activity, Zapata said. “These were the most violent prisoners and many of them were leaders of gangs who were ordering murders on the street,” he said. “In Litoral, they were able to communicate with members in the communities and direct criminal actions. Now, they have been isolated outside of Guayaquil and their ability to communicate has been terminated.”
According to police records, murders have dropped 20% in Esmeraldas Province, 35% in Santo Domingo, 12% in Manabí and 7% in Guayas since the first week of November. Police also report that cases of physical assault have also dropped in the four provinces since the prison transfers and the imposition of the state of emergency.
Six police officers were killed in violence that followed the prisoner transfers that began October 31. The government said the killings as well as more than 30 explosions were the work of gang members on the street.
Although the emergency declaration remains in effect in Guayas, Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo provinces, the hours of the nighttime curfew have been reduced to four. Businesses in the affected provinces had complained about the impact on restaurants, bars and other establishments that operate late at night.
“Controlling criminal activity is a long-term project and moving prisoners and instating curfews are only the first steps in fighting crime,” Zapata said. “We are making comprehensive changes to prison administration and law enforcement that we believe will have a permanent impact.”