As national officials debate the reasons for Tuesday’s riots and murders in four federal prisons, Cuenca’s mayor demanded that the most violent prisoners be transferred out of the Turi Rehabilitation Center south of the city. Other local officials, including two former mayors, supported the demand, claiming that Turi was intended for prisoners from the southern sierra region, not those from the coast who they say are more violent.
The Turi prison was the scene of slaughter Tuesday as a coordinated gang war spread through four national prisons, resulting in the deaths of 79 prisoners. There were 34 deaths at Turi, the most at any of the four facilities. Police say that most of the Turi deaths involved the mutilation and beheadings of the bodies.
“As I understand it, almost all the inmates involved in Tuesday’s massacre at Turi are from Guayas, Manabi and Esmeraldas provinces,” said Paúl Granda, who was mayor when construction of the Turi prison began in 2008. “This was meant to be a regional facility, to house prisoners from Azuay, Loja, Cañar and other southern provinces, but the government has transferred the most violent criminals in Ecuador from out of the area.”
Current Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios has demanded a meeting with national prison authorities for an explanation of why violent criminals are incarcerated at Turi. “We have been assured that the most dangerous criminals are not kept here but this week’s events prove this is untrue,” he said. “We are requesting a list of Turi prisoners to determine their origin. What happened Tuesday is outrageous and we want assurances that it won’t happen again.”
Marcelo Cabrera, who served as mayor before Palacios and was recently elected to serve Azuay Province in the National Assembly, agreed. “We need to remove these people immediately,” he said.
Among other officials demanding the transfer of out-of-area prisoners were Azuay Prefect Cecilia Méndez, president of the Turi Parish Council Paúl Pañi and several chamber of commerce officials. “Turi must be returned to its original purpose and the coastal convicts who commit acts of barbarism must be removed,” Méndez said. “They are accustomed to this ghastly beastiality in Guayaquil and Manta, we are not in Cuenca.”
As the government pledged Wednesday to prevent future gang warfare, national prison director Edmundo Moncayo said that Tuesday’s events were triggered by the murder of José Luis Zambrano, alias “Rasquiña,” leader of the Los Choneros gang. Zambrano was killed in a Manta shopping mall in December shortly after he had been released from prison. “We understand that this started the violence and led to revenge killings and we regret we were unable to stop it,” he said.
At Turi and two prisons in Guayaquil, family members of inmates gathered at the gates asking for the names of those killed and injured Tuesday. One woman told reporters that her sister learned of her son’s death from a social media video showing him being beheaded at Turi.