The Limited Times

Now you can see non-English news...

The failed attempt to bukelization of Ecuador's prisons: escapes and gang control continue


Highlights: The Cotopaxi prison is under the control of the criminal gang Los Lobos, which disputes control of drug trafficking with Los Choneros. The military, upon entering here heavily armed, whitewashed the mural with paint. They entered the cells and took everything from the prisoners. They wanted to impose a regime of control and discipline like the one Bukele has imposed in the prisons of El Salvador. For now, it cannot be said that they have reached that level of mastery.

EL PAÍS accesses one of the prisons that President Daniel Noboa is trying to control - for now without success - applying the model of the president of El Salvador

A tour of the Cotopaxi prison, one of the most dangerous in Ecuador, begins with visitors putting on a vest and adjusting a helmet, as if entering a war zone.

It is also necessary to cover your face, so that no one recognizes you.

The soldiers of the Ecuadorian Army have taken over the prison for a few weeks and that means that a thousand of them are distributed in the pavilions to control the gang members, the true masters of this place.

The military wears combat gear, ready for action.

Ecuadorian prisons have often been the scene of bloody riots caused by criminal groups that have left dozens of people dead, as they decapitate and tear out their hearts as a show of power.


Tour of Cotopaxi Prison

Prisoners exercise in a courtyard of the Cotopaxi prison.

In video, a tour of the interior of the prison.

Video: Karen Toro

Here the prisoners are the ones in charge and they fuel their criminal businesses by extorting the relatives of the detainees.

“To authorize a visit they paid between 10 and 20 dollars,” says the officer who leads the tour of the prison for a group of media outlets, including EL PAÍS.

Everything was under the control of the ringleaders: the food, the cleaning supplies, the medicines, the food store, the phone calls, the high-speed internet that they had managed to install.

How did they get the luxuries and activate a criminal infrastructure in a center guarded by the State?

Who authorized it?

“It was around 2016 when control of the prisons was lost” by the SNAI, the State institution responsible for the penitentiary system, he says.

But there are no names, no one who is being investigated, even after four prison massacres that took place in that place in the last three years, where organized crime pulls the strings of violence in the streets from the prisons.

During the visit there is something uncomfortable, an unrevealed truth.

And it is this: the night before three prisoners escaped from the maximum security part.

A thick silence surrounds that event that no one wants to talk about.

This prison has housed not only gang members, but also politicians like Jorge Glas and controversial figures due to cases of corruption.

The prison, of 14 square hectares, is an hour and a half from Quito.

“The prison is under control,” the officer repeats at every moment.

A person deprived of liberty looks out the window from his cell.Karen Toro

No questions are allowed to the prisoners who are on the way, not even to the one sentenced to nine years for drug trafficking who was leaving the health center.

He is 74 years old, he is accompanied by two other prisoners who were carrying him by the arm, supporting him.

He walks slowly, with difficulty.

“I am diabetic, hypertensive…”

His testimony is interrupted by a military order not to speak.

The Cotopaxi prison is under the control of the criminal gang Los Lobos, which disputes control of drug trafficking with Los Choneros.

So that everyone was clear about who was in charge, they tattooed the wall with the animal that is their symbol in the middle of the prison.

The military, upon entering here heavily armed, whitewashed the mural with paint.

Afterwards, they entered the cells and took everything from the prisoners.

They wanted to impose a regime of control and discipline like the one Bukele has imposed in the prisons of El Salvador.

For now, it cannot be said that they have reached that level of mastery.

Entrance to one of the security filters.

Karen Toro

“We are hungry!” “We have no way to wash!”

“We want visitors!” the prisoners shout from their cells when they notice the presence of strangers in the yard.

Heads and arms stick out of the narrow windows with broken glass to attract attention.

Everyone screams.

They wave white t-shirts.

The screams come from the three pavilions of the minimum security area.

The military warns that they are not little angels, that they are there because they committed crimes.

Cells modified as entertainment spaces inside the prison.

Karen Toro

Inside one of the pavilions, only some prisoners dressed in orange suits are outside their cells, standing near the wall.

They just watch in silence.

“We are hungry! They give us very little food and they took away the commissary,” a prisoner breaks the stillness from cell 01. The commissary is the internal store of the prison where relatives deposit money so that they have access to buy sweets , chips, soda, cookies, something that fills the stomach.

The food rations they are given are not enough.

Relatives of prisoners can pay the leaders of each cell block up to $250 a month so that they can have access to the store, toiletries and cleaning supplies, telephone calls and security, according to a study carried out by the Center for Interdisciplinary Ethnography. Kaleidos.

A profitable business that can move up to a million dollars a month for the 4,346 people held in the Cotopaxi prison and that more than finances other luxuries for gang leaders, but in addition, this movement of people from outside the prison is the channel to enter weapons, ammunition and explosives.

For everything that has been found in the prison, it has been necessary to open the doors without passing any filter so that trucks with cement, tiles, beds, mattresses, cartons with bottles of whiskey, soda, refrigerators, kitchens can enter.

Exterior view of one of the pavilions.Karen Toro

In the medium security block, the cells on the third floor, which were supposed to have two cement bunk beds and an aluminum toilet to house five prisoners, were remodeled by them.

“Two cells converted them into a suite with a double bed, a small living room, a private bathroom,” the officer describes how they found the facilities on January 14 when they carried out the intervention operation.

It took them 15 hours to have control of the entire prison.

The military was prohibited from passing through the first filter, but the presidential decree of internal armed conflict and social unrest, promulgated by the newly arrived president, Daniel Noboa, allowed the entry of a contingent of more than 2,000 armed soldiers.

The prisoners had made explosive traps with gas tanks to prevent their passage and they were met with gunfire from the upper parts of the buildings.

Once the soldiers entered, they placed the prisoners face down on the patio floor, while others were in charge of removing everything from the cells.

Absolutely everything.

In some cases they destroyed walls and floors to find weapons and ammunition.

“We know that there are still weapons hidden in some parts, but we are investigating where, because right now we may be standing on a cove where they have these objects hidden.”

And for that they would have to destroy the entire prison where nothing works.

The scanners at the entrance ring as a person passes by, without any sense, they do not scan the body, nor do they detect prohibited objects that are attempted to enter.

The security cameras are destroyed.

The center is guarded under the gaze of the military who are at different points and in the six control towers.

Everything is manual, to the touch of them and the police who check the backpacks, purses, clothes, shoes, in the two entry filters.

Military patrols the surroundings of the Cotopaxi Social Rehabilitation Center.Karen Toro

“The Armed Forces did not know about prison management, but we have tried to do the best we can,” says the military officer in charge.

For now the strategy is not to allow visitors until we find the mechanism to control who enters the prison.

A month after the intervention, they began to allow family members to provide a list of toiletries and a sponge for them to sleep with.

Those who have found out have begun to leave them at the entrance to the prison, with the names of their imprisoned relative, the cell block, the cell number and sometimes with messages: “I love you son.

God bless you” and a drawn heart.

“For our security and to have control of the center, it is necessary to have them like this, inside the cells and with a padlock,” says the officer.

They are not allowed to play soccer games in the yard, nor do work activities such as carpentry or ceramics.

The current regime operates through strict schedules and stretching activities led by a military officer.

They wake them up at six in the morning, force them to keep the place clean, shake and turn the mat.

The five prisoners in each tiny cell must give each other space to do so.

Clean the floor and the toilet.

Only a few are allowed to go out and clean the internal courtyard in shifts each day.

They can go out at meal time.

They must sit on the patio and eat from plastic tubs.

They leave everything clean and return to the cells.

To nothing.

Cove where prohibited items such as drugs or weapons were stored.Karen Toro

The image is very different from the videos that the prisoners published on social networks where they boasted about the parties they had in the nightclubs they built.

Loud music, alcohol, drugs, jewelry they were wearing, money.

They walked through all the pavilions at all hours, dressed in designer clothes, playing cards or drinking.

The same life outside, where they were sentenced for crimes, continued inside.

But with privileges and protected by the State.

The tour skips the maximum security pavilion.

A soldier prevents us from even seeing through the crack in the blue metal door what it is like inside, how the 883 most dangerous prisoners living in that section live.

There are the leaders of the Wolves, those who ordered terrorist attacks with car bombs in the busiest streets of Quito.

View of a common cell inside the prison.

Karen Toro

From there the crime of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was planned, according to the first police investigations.

It was there from where the hitmen were called and shot the politician four times.

The three prisoners sentenced for murder also escaped from there in the early hours of February 22, while the military guarded the cells, with police in the security filters and prison guides in the cell blocks.

Nothing prevented the escape of the inmates, who continue to have power over the State.

Although the Government tries, Cotopaxi is still not under its control.

Follow all the information from El PAÍS América on




, or in our

weekly newsletter


Source: elparis

All news articles on 2024-02-24

You may like

Trends 24h


© Communities 2019 - Privacy

The information on this site is from external sources that are not under our control.
The inclusion of any links does not necessarily imply a recommendation or endorse the views expressed within them.