Former Minister of the Interior José Serrano says there is no excuse for the lack of preparation for the prison riots that left 80 dead in Cuenca, Guayaquil and Latacunga on Tuesday. “SNAI [the prison management office] had received more than 40 alerts that trouble was coming and gangs were about to go to war,” he says. “This information was given to the officials by both internal and external sources.”
The warnings came over a several week period, Serrano says, with an “urgent” alert give on Monday, the day before the riots. “They were told by multiple sources that revenge killings were planned and that the gangs had brought extra weapons into the prisons. Not only were preparations not put in place, prison guards were advised to move away from high security blocks were the violent prisoners were housed.”
Serrano, who heads the National Assembly’s Justice Commission, has summoned Interior Minister Patricio Pazmiño, National Police Commander Patricio Carrillo and prison director Edmundo Moncayo to testify next week about the riots and prison management.
Among the questions Serrano has for Moncayo is why prison guard positions have gone unfilled and why some guards were fired as part of the government’s budget tightening measures. “This is not an area where you cut the budget,” he says. “This reduces the security of citizens where the prisons are located.”
Beyond examining Tuesday’s riots, Serrano says wants to address “the larger problem” that led to the riots. “Almost all of the inmates participating in the riots and the killings are part of coastal drug gangs that are operating in Guayas, Manabi and Esmeraldas Provinces.
“The gangs have taken over the streets of southern Guayaquil and also have strongholds in Manta, Esmeraldas and Los Ríos,” he says. “They are moving products from Peru and Bolivia and Chile through Ecuador ports to Colombia and the U.S. and when their members are convicted of crimes thye go into the prison system. These are violent people, trained in the methods of the Colombian and Mexican drug culture. We need to develop a law enforcement strategy that attacks the gangs themselves, to dislodge them before they become more entrenched.”
He adds: “If we don’t go to the source of the criminality, reduce or eliminate it, insecurity in the prisons will only get worse.”