With Ecuador "In A State Of War", Prison Overcrowding Soars In Latin America

 After several days of violence perpetrated by criminal gangs, in which at least fourteen people lost their lives, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa declared last week that his country was “in a state of war”. Ecuador is currently in the grip of an unprecedented wave of violence, led by drug trafficking gangs.

The country, currently the main export point for cocaine produced in Peru and Colombia, has recently seen an escalation of gang-related violence. Between 2019 and 2022, homicides on the streets of Ecuador increased by 288%, to 26.7 deaths per 100,000. 2023 figures published by the Ecuadorian government indicate that this figure has now risen to 46 deaths per 100,000 as nearly 8,000 homicides were recorded in the country.

On Tuesday January 9, a group of armed men burst onto a television set of the Ecuadorian public channel TC Television, and took several journalists hostage. In the country's prisons, mutinies also broke out. This wave of violence follows the escapes of Adolfo Macias, alias “Fito”, leader of the Los Choneros gang, which has around 8,000 men, on Sunday January 7, and of Fabricio Colon Pico, the leader of the Los Lobos gang, a few days later.

Nearly 180 prison guards and civil servants were taken hostage by the end of last week.

At least two hostages were killed by the inmates, one of them hanged, according to the videos.

But after the deployment of more than 22,400 military personnel and the imposition of curfews, all 136 hostages seized during prison riots in Ecuador were freed earlier this week, prison authorities said.

"Security protocols and the joint work of the police and the national army enabled the release of all the hostages who were being held in various prisons across the country," the SNAI prison authorities said in a statement on X.

President Daniel Noboa celebrated their release.

"Congratulations to the patriotic, professional and courageous work of the armed forces, national police and the SNAI [...] for achieving the release of the prison guards and administrative staff held in the detention centers of Azuay, Canar, Esmeraldas, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, El Oro and Loja," Noboa wrote on X.

Police said 46 guards and one civil servant were released from the Cotopaxi prison, 13 from Tungurahua prison, and 15 others from El Oro prison, where the body of a civil servant was found.

As Statista's Anna Fleck shows in the infographic below, based on data from World Prison Brief, shows, Ecuador's prisons are currently overcrowded: they are in fact running at an occupancy level of 112 percent.

You will find more infographics at Statista

This phenomenon is, however, much more pronounced in a large number of Latin American countries.

Five countries on the continent have a prison population more than twice the capacity of their prisons: Peru (229 percent occupancy), El Salvador (237 percent), Bolivia (264 percent), Guatemala (293 percent), and Haiti, where the prison population is almost five times its official capacity.

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