Fifty prison guards and seven police officers have been freed after being taken hostage by inmates held in six prisons across Ecuador, authorities said, part of a coordinated protest against security operations being conducted inside the country’s violence-plagued penitentiaries.
The protests began on Thursday, according to Ecuador’s penitentiary service, the SNAI, hours after the military carried out a major operation involving more than 2,200 security personnel at prison in Latacunga, a city south of the capital, Quito.
The military said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that it was attempting to “control weapons, ammunition, and explosives” at the facility.
Inmates and their allies responded by taking hostages and, according to Ecuador’s Ministry of the Interior, setting off two car bombs in Quito on Thursday that targeted SNAI buildings, one of which is no longer in use by the agency. At least six people were arrested following the blasts, the ministry said.
The SNAI said on Saturday that all hostages had been freed following a “coordinated operation” and that prison was now running normally.
“The measures we have taken, especially in the penitentiary system, have generated violent reactions from criminal organizations that aim to intimidate the state,” Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso said on X. “But we are firm and we are not going to back away from our objective of capturing dangerous criminals, dismantling criminal gangs and pacifying the country’s prisons.”
This is not the first time prisoners have taken hostages this summer. The SNAI said in July that it had successfully executed an operation to free 106 prison guards taken hostage by inmates across five different prisons.
A detainee uprising in the port city of Guayaquil left 31 people dead, according to the Ecuador Attorney General’s office.
Ecuador’s prison system has long been dogged by violence and infighting between gangs powerful enough to overwhelm the guards meant to keep the facilities, many of which are overcrowded, safe.
The gang warfare has effectively jumped from prisons to the open street, with criminal organizations meting out brutal and often public shows of violence in their battle to control drug trafficking routes.
The most prominent victim to date has been presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio, who had been campaigning on a promise to crack down Ecuador’s “narco-state.” The anti-corruption campaigner and investigative journalist turned-lawmaker was assassinated at a campaign event on August 9, prompting Ecuadorian authorities to declare a state of emergency.