Hostage standoff continues at Turi prison; Officials employ ‘containment and isolation protocols’
Early Thursday, officials said there have been no new developments in the hostage crisis at the Turi prison, south of Cuenca. Prisoners remain in control of the prison while hundreds of military and police personnel are massed outside the gates. National Police Commander Fausto Salinas said that an “unknown number” of prison guards and security agents are being held by prisoners representing the Los Lobos criminal gang. “We have implemented our containment and isolation protocols,” he said.
On Wednesday, there were conflicting reports of events at the 2,500-inmate facility located in the tourist community of Turi. Several news media reported that a riot was in progress, saying shouts and explosions could be heard from within the prison. A Quito newspaper reported that 30% of the prison was under the control of Los Lobos.
In a Wednesday morning news conference, Azuay Province Governor Consuelo Orellana insisted there was no riot and that prisoners at Turi were reacting to earlier raids at prisons in Guayaquil and Latacunga. “The prisoners in Cuenca are upset by the news and are causing trouble,” she said, adding: “We have implemented standard preventive control measures to maintain order.”
Hours later, Orellana reported that prisoners were holding hostages.
Several hundred police and military personnel surrounded the facility as prisoners shouted insults and threw debris from the rooftops of two buildings. The prisoners chanted, “We are Los Lobos, come and get us.”
Management of the national prison system (SNAI) said police and army units are standing by in case “activity arises that affects internal security.” An official at Turi said that the main doors to the prison have been barricaded by prisoners, preventing entry.
When Orellana was asked if the hostage situation did not constitute a breach of internal security, she said, “Ripping open the prison doors is not the best response given the circumstances. This is a delicate situation, and we are proceeding with caution.”
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the regional armed forces command said it was awaiting instructions from SNAI officials regarding its next move. Until further notice, the command said its job is to “maintain a secure external perimeter around the prison to guarantee the safety of citizens.”
On Wednesday afternoon an angry Cuenca Mayor Cristian Zamora blamed the prison standoff on the presence of violent gang members in the prison. “When Turi was built, we were promised that only prisoners from the southern sierra and Amazon region would be incarcerated here,” he said. “The government violated that agreement and placed coastal criminals involved in drug trafficking here. I intend to return Turi to its original purpose.”
Within a matter of weeks Zamora said the city would erect a checkpoint at the prison entrance to block admittance of new inmates from coastal provinces.