Ecuador authorities vow to regain control of prisons amid wave of violence
A wave of prison riots in Ecuador has left three dead and sent more than 100 prisoners on the run, according to officials.
The demonstrations against the country’s increasingly authoritarian president Rafael Correa began on the streets of Quito, Ecuador’s capital, on Sunday, when prisoners refused to work on Monday’s national holiday, demanding the release of political detainees.
On Tuesday, armed gangs opened fire on officers and protesters, killing three people and injuring dozens more, according to the national police.
A statement later issued by the head of national police, Guillermo Pacheco, said the gangs had been trained and equipped with grenades, and that the government was working with the interior ministry to try to halt the violence.
“The government is determined to maintain order and to avoid further deaths,” it said.
Mr Pacheco said the gangs had trained in military tactics. “The goal of this training is to attack the population and intimidate people in the streets, while taking measures to prevent the spread of this situation to other parts of the country,” he said, adding that a special brigade had been set up to tackle the problem, which the police said was largely under the control of armed gangs.
Mr Correa has presided over one of the most authoritarian governments in Latin America since 1998, when he was voted to a second term after ousting the country’s first president, the then-congressman Rafael Correa, in a controversial election.
It has been marked by a dramatic increase in the use of force against alleged crimes, with many political opponents and even family members serving lengthy prison sentences — the death penalty is a crime in Ecuador.
In a nation where political dissent is considered a crime, the unrest began on the morning of Monday’s national holiday, when members of the prison guards’ union, Sindicato del Cuerpo de Guardias, refused to work. A group of prisoners calling themselves the Central Committee of Prisoners demanded action, and officers working with the Ministry of Labour tried to prevent them from going to work, only to be pushed back by the prisoners.
In the rioting that followed, inmates attacked prison guards, breaking in to their homes and burning their vehicles, killing two civilians, and injuring at least 34.
In the early evening, security forces were sent in with armoured vehicles and helicopters to restore control