Tuesday, May 10, 2022

44 killed in Ecuador prison riot (May 10, 2022)

At least 44 inmates were killed in Ecuador's latest prison riot, yesterday. The uprising started in the morning and ended in the afternoon when more than 200 police commandos retook control of the maximum-security wing of the Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas prison. Gruesome pictures on social media showed mutilated bodies strewn in a courtyard in the jail, images that have become almost commonplace in Ecuador. It was the country's sixth prison massacre since the beginning of 2021, with a collective death toll of nearly 400 inmates. The most recent prison uprising was last month, in which 20 inmates were killed. (Guardian, Associated Press)

Authorities said 220 prisoners escaped during yesterday's violence, of which 112 had been recaptured. Most of those killed were stabbed to death, according to Patricio Carrillo, Ecuador’s interior minister, who noted that the riot was caused by a conflict between criminal gangs. (New York Times) On April 30, Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in three coastal provinces: Esmeraldas, Guayas and Manabí. Throughout 2021 and this year, violence between drug gangs in these areas has soared, reports InSight Crime.

The violence has spiked to unprecedented levels fuelled by rivalry between international drug trafficking gangs vying for control of lucrative cocaine trade routes. The evolution of Ecuador's violent clashes between criminal groups follows the evolution of rivalries at the heart of Colombia's and Mexico's drug wars have evolved over the years, according to InSight Crime, with a repeating pattern of splintering groups, changing leaders and evolving trafficking routes.

But massive overpopulation in penitentiaries contributes to violence, reported InSight Crime last year. The country's prisons house 35,000 people and are overcrowded at about 15% beyond maximum capacity. A government committee created last year to study conditions in the country's prisons found that despicable conditions had turned prisons into "human warehouses and centers of torture." 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said the system is blighted by state abandonment and the absence of a comprehensive policy, as well as poor conditions for inmates. (Reuters) At least 316 people died while incarcerated in Ecuador in 2021, according to a report in March released by the commission. The majority of those killed were young and accused of minor crimes, and some were waiting to be released, the report found. (Washington Post)

Some advocates also say government apathy towards inmates is behind the violent scenes. Even in instances when intelligence networks or family members have warned of imminent bloodshed, authorities have been slow to take action, Vianca Gavilanes, a lawyer for the inmates' rights NGO Dignity Foundation, told AFP last month.

At the time of yesterday's riot, the Santo Domingo de las Tsáchilas prison housed more than 1,600 detainees, nearly double its original capacity of 905, according to official records. Only 25 officers were on duty for the entire prison

In February, President Guillermo Lasso began a new policy aimed at increasing access to food, health care and work, among other things, for prisoners. To help reduce overcrowding, he also ordered the release of about 5,000 prisoners, including those who had committed minor crimes and had served more than half their sentence. (New York Times)

News Briefs

  • The potential overturning of Roe v Wade in the U.S. has put a spotlight on Latin American feminist movements. In Argentina the legalization of abortion in 2020 builds on a long history of activism, and massive mobilizations that included demands for reproductive rights along with broader protests against multiple forms of gender violence, writes Verónica Gago, a Ni Una Menos leader, in the Guardian.
  • Two more Mexican media workers, Yesenia Mollinedo Falconi and Sheila Johana García Olivera, were assassinated yesterday – taking the 2022 death toll to 11, in what has long been one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters. Advocates accuse President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of failing to respond to the ongoing media security crisis, while critics say his public attacks on journalists have fueled the violence. (Guardian)
Regional Relations
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the country would hire over 500 Cuban doctors to help make up for a shortage of medical professionals, and that it will purchase COVID-19 vaccines from Cuba. Cuba and Mexico signed an agreement to expand cooperation in public health, this weekend, when AMLO visited the island. (Reuters)
  • Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is due to appear in U.S. federal court for the first time today for his arraignment, where he is expected to plead not guilty to three counts of drug trafficking and illegal use of weapons. His defense team plans to call high-profile witnesses -- including Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Donald Trump -- to prove he was an ally in the war on drugs, reports Univisión.

  • Former Honduran police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla is scheduled to be deported to the U.S. today, where he faces drug trafficking and weapons charges. Better known as "El Tigre," he faced allegations of human rights abuses during his time in command. (EFE)
  • Social media mobs, with the blessings of Brazil’s “cabinet of hate,” are trolling the Amazon rainforest, write Robert Muggah and Mac Margolis in the Washington Post. "Throw in Brazil’s penchant for culture wars and caustic polarization, along with one of the planet’s worst environmental crises, and you have the makings of a climate misinformation catastrophe."

  • A second term for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro would be even more disastrous than the first has been, argues Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly. "He would likely use a second term to intensify his most aggressive postures, following the example of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, leaders for whom Bolsonaro has expressed support."
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves Robles started his term by declaring a national emergency this weekend — a belated response to a ransomware attack by the Russia-based Conti gang that has disrupted government agencies for more than a month, reports the Washington Post.
  • The trial against Bolivia's former interim president Jeanine Añez was suspended last week in response to an unconstitutionality appeal submitted by the defense, and no date to resume the trial has been announced. The problematic trial lays bare the country’s political polarization and lack of due process, write James Bosworth and Lucy Hale in the Latin America Risk Report.
  • Inclusive language is increasingly becoming a hot-button issue in the so-called culture wars raging throughout much of Latin America, write Ezequiel González Camaño and Rich Brown in Americas Quarterly.

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