Criminal gangs control Turi prison, former chief says; Fake news is rampant in the presidential campaign; Cuenca’s Zamora is the most popular mayor

Sep 18, 2023 | 0 comments

Omar León, former director of Cuenca’s Turi prison, says it is “an open secret” that management has lost control of prison operations. “In effect, the gangs are in charge there,” he says.

León, who was head of the prison for only two months before resigning, is advising Cuenca Mayor Cristian Zamora and the municipal council on a plan to return Turi to its original intent of incarcerating prisoners from the southern sierra and Amazon regions of Ecuador. According to both León and Zamora, the government abandoned that intent shortly after the facility opened, relocating criminal gang members from coastal prisons to Turi.

Both Luisa González and Daniel Noboa have been the targets of fake news, media experts say.

León says Zamora is right to confront the government about the prison. “If a change in the inmate population is not made, a situation like you have in Guayaquil, Esmeraldas and Manta could develop in Cuenca. The city must be forceful and persistent about this or you there will be an increase in crime associated with the criminal gangs in the prison.”

León says corruption is at the heart of Ecuador’s prison crisis. “Corruption runs so deep that honest administrators and employees have no option but allow prisoners free reign. It begins at the top, with the administrators, and goes down to the guards, the police and even military personnel assigned to the prisons.”

He blames “excessive emphasis” on the rights of the prisoners guaranteed in the constitution and through law. “Rules must be re-written, and laws need to be revised to get the situation under control,” he says. “On the other hand, there must be the institutional will as well as funding to make the changes to restore control and legitimacy to the system.”

Fake news will have little impact on the presidential election, experts say
Although social media is awash in unsubstantiated claims and outright lies about the presidential candidates and their positions, it will have minimal impact on the outcome of the election, two experts say.

“There’s a lot of fake news flying around, with more to come, but I don’t think it will play a role in determining whether [Luisa] González or [Daniel] Noboa is elected next month,” says Fernanda Tusa, professor of Social Communication at the Technical University of Machala. “People are becoming accustomed to it and because it’s being put out by both sides, it balances itself out among voters who believe it.”

Tusa notes two examples of fake news circulating on TikTok and Facebook. “One is that González is being supported by the Los Lobos criminal gang, and that she has a Los Lobos tattoo on her back,” he says. “Another is that Noboa believes the country’s minimum wage is too high and should be reduced and that he is working with his father, the banana baron, to keep labor costs down on the banana plantations. There is even a deep-fake video with Noba discussing this.”

In other cases, social media claims contain some elements of truth. “Although González has been clear she will maintain dollarization, she is accused of having a secret plan to take money away from citizens and institute a system of digital currency controlled by the government,” says political commentator Andrés Jaramillo. “This is a case where old comments by Rafael Correa and vice-presidential candidate Andrés Arauz have been quoted accurately but have since been updated or renounced.”

Comments by Noboa’s running mate, Verónica Abad, have also been taken out of context, says Jaramillo. “There’s a fake video with Abad claiming that the Correistas plan to ban cosmetics for women based on a 70-year-old Chinese communist rule.”

Under different circumstances, fake news could play a larger role in the election, says Tusa. “In this election, however, because of strong pro- and anti-Correista sentiments, I believe there will be very little movement among voters between now and the election. The results are baked into the cake, as they say.”

Cuenca’s Zamora is the most popular mayor
After four months in office, Cuenca’s Cristian Zamora is the most popular mayor of Ecuador’s largest cities. According to polling service Social Climate Survey, Zamora’s favorability rating stands at 78.7% compared to 51.5% for Quito’s Pabel Muñoz and 51.17% for Guayaquil’s Aquiles Alvarez.

Social Climate credits Zamora’s popularity for his “activism” in dismantling a highway photo radar ticketing system installed by the previous administration and for confronting the government on a utilities privatization plan as well as its management of the Turi penitentiary, the site of several riots in recent years.

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