Cablegate: Ecuadorian Prisons in Crisis, Part Ii: Conditions
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UNCLAS QUITO 001919
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EC
SUBJECT: ECUADORIAN PRISONS IN CRISIS, PART II: CONDITIONS
1. Summary: An Ecuadorian prison system plagued by
overpopulation and a lack of resources has led to riots,
worker strikes, and a state of emergency. A slow justice
system characterized by long sentences, appeals that take up
to four years, harsher drug laws, the elimination of
shortened sentences based on good behavior, and "definitive
detention," which mandates the detention of prisoners before
trial, have all contributed to the current crisis. End
2. Ecuador has 35 detention centers. In May 2006, the
prison population included 12,677 males and 1,379 females.
Nine prisons hold males, five hold females, and 21 are mixed.
The largest is the notorious Coastal Prison of Guayaquil
with 3,106 males, 31% of Ecuador's prison population.
Mestizo prisoners comprise 75% of the population, 12% are
Afro-Ecuadorian, 9% are White, and 4% are indigenous
according to 2004 data. A study headed by the prestigious
Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) found that
the prison population has doubled in the past 20 years,
increasing an average of 8% per year.
3. Illegal drugs are the principal cause of detention in
Ecuador, with 75% of Quito's prisoners, 77% of Guayaquil's,
and 80% of Ecuador's 249 foreign prisoners held on drug
charges. BBC reported in June 2005 that 90% of prisoners in
Ecuador were held on charges of transporting, selling, or
possession of drugs.
Human Rights Violations
4. Prisoners need outside resources, generally obtained from
family, to survive. The $1.00 allocated for food to each
prisoner is inadequate and food is often of poor quality.
The FLACSO study found that $20 per week is needed for an
adequate diet in prison. A prison doctor in Garcia Moreno
Prison claimed in a film produced by FLACSO that diets amount
to no more than 480 calories per day. Cells must be
purchased, at a cost of up to $1,500 for a shared space in
Garcia Moreno. There have been increased limitations on
visiting hours which prevents prisoners from obtaining food
5. There are 42 doctors in the Ecuadorian prison system and
22% of inmates in Quito and 37% of inmates in Guayaquil have
no medical attention. Wounds, respiratory disorders, and
digestive problems are common and often unattended. There is
a lack of medicine and first aid supplies.
6. There is sexual harassment and assault of both inmates
and visitors. In Quito, 30% of prisoners report cases of
sexual abuse by prison personnel; in Guayaquil 21% do. Abuse
by lawyers was reported by 22% in Quito and 25% in Guayaquil.
Female prisoners often have to exchange sex for food and
7. The FLACSO study found that 13% of women had become
pregnant while in a Quito prison up to six times, and 19% had
become pregnant in Guayaquil up to three times. Pregnancies
are the result of conjugal visits, relationships between
female prisoners and male prisoners or guards, and sexual
assault. There is a rate of only 46-49 live births per every
100 children born and many pregnancies end in abortion
(illegal in Ecuador). Children live with 16% of prisoners.
Quito Women's Prison Director John Cueva reported in June
2005 that "we have 75 cents daily for each prisoner, with or
without children." There were 392 children living in prison
with a parent in 2004.
8. Overcrowding, which coincides with stricter antinarcotics
laws, has led to violence, disease, a struggle for resources,
and the elimination of rehabilitation programs. It is also a
serious fire hazard. Ecuador's 36 prisons are designed to
hold 7,000 prisoners but held 14,056 in May 2006.
Guayaquil's Coastal Prison, designed for 1,200, holds 4,000.
Quito's Second Prison, designed for 300, holds between 835
and 874. San Roque prison has the capacity for 400 prisoners
but held 2,500 before 350 inmates were transferred there
after a fire in Quito's Second Prison.
9. There is no prisoner classification system or
differentiation between high and low security prisoners. The
international standard of one prison worker for every ten
prisoners would amount to 2,400 workers in Ecuador, but there
are only 890. Guards negotiate with prisoners to maintain
control. Luis Munoz, former Director of the National Social
Rehabilitation Board (DNRS), estimates $74 million is needed
to solve overcrowding and says, "no prison that has more than
1,000 detainees is governable."
Guard Deaths and Gang Violence Common
10. In the Tulcan Prison, three Colombian prisoners carrying
two machine guns and two grenades killed two guards and
wounded one during an escape attempt, which occurred during
visiting hours. A prison guard who worked at Guayaquil's
Coastal Prison was killed on April 8 in what police believe
was a revenge killing upon leaving the home of a prisoner's
wife, with whom he had a "sentimental relationship."
11. A prison fight in Guayaquil's coastal prison left five
dead and 21 injured on March 22. Police found two 38 caliber
guns, 83 nine millimeter rounds of ammunition, six knives,
three cellular phones, and 101 packets of cocaine. The gun
fight, which lasted 20 minutes, broke out at 10H30 during
visiting hours and was reportedly started by members of the
"Russians" prison gang. On February 10, a pistol, five
revolvers, a machine gun, grenades, alcohol, and drugs were
confiscated in the same prison.
12. On January 12, two prisoners were wounded in Guayaquil's
Coastal Prison during a gang fight over drug selling
territory. No guards were hurt.
13. In Guayaquil's Coastal Prison, guards relinquished
control to gangs who operate within and outside the prison.
Gang wars claimed the lives of 27 prisoners and guards in
2005 and wounded 50, including 7 policemen and 3 guards. In
2006, 7 died and 23 were wounded. There are three major
gangs in the prison. The largest gang controls 1,400
prisoners, the smallest 460. Gangs sell marijuana and
cocaine. In Garcia Moreno, guards do not enter the prison
14. Prison gangs receive money from outside members and are
responsible for increased crime rates in Guayaquil.
Newspapers report that the March death of a Guayaquil prison
director, Eddy Enriquez, was ordered by the Coyote gang from
prison and executed out outside. Investigators believe he
was killed because of his imposition of stricter controls of
drugs and arms. When families file police reports of deaths
resulting from gang violence, they are not often pursued by
Many Held without Sentencing
15. The FLACSO study found that 64% of prisoners are held
without trial and of those 10% have no legal assistance. In
May, only 4,719 of Ecuador's 14,056 prisoners had been
convicted of a crime. In 2004, there were only 32 public
defenders in the country. At a rate of 70%, Ecuador has the
third highest rate in Latin America (after Honduras and
Uruguay) of prisoners that have not been sentenced.
USG Pilot Initiative Shows Positive Results
16. U.S. government funding has helped to speed up
sentencing in Ecuador. A USAID pilot initiative in Cuenca's
lower courts and Prosecutor's Office implemented a new
Criminal Procedure's Code (CPC). The oral accusatory system
involved preliminary hearings that cut unnecessary detentions
by 40% and reduced the average wait for rulings on pre-trial
procedures from 36 to 20 hours. USAID helped the Prosecutor
General establish a specialized unit that dealt with 36% of
cases in Quito during the initial presentation of claims and
Prison Fire Left Two Dead
17. On March 22, a fire in Quito's Second Prison left two
inmates dead and twenty wounded. The fire, which destroyed
80% of the building, is believed to have been caused by
cables short circuiting. Of the prison's 867 prisoners, all
but 392 were evacuated to seven facilities outside the
capitol, 475 of which were transferred to the coast.
Prisoners transferred to Bahia reportedly did not have
18. A firefighter squad representative who inspected the
Second Prison eight months ago said that he had warned of a
fire hazard since a lack of anti-fire systems and fire
hydrants combined with overcrowding and poor infrastructure
made the prison susceptible to such disasters. Prison
Quito's First Prison has existed for 100 years without
renovation. Ecuadorian prisons lack evacuation strategies,
alarms, and sprinkler systems.
19. Throughout Ecuador there are 130 prison social workers
and no psychiatrists. Rehabilitation exists through limited
employment opportunities, though 80% of the country's
prisoners are unemployed. In Tena's prison, prisoners weave
hammocks and nets sold in local markets, slaughter cattle,
cure leather, and study in small classrooms. Twenty NGOs
work in the coastal prison with 30% of the 4,300 male and 400
female prisoners. Coastal programs include "spiritual
support," carpentry workshops, and bakeries. Employment
includes shoe-making, weaving, leather work, agriculture,
electric work, and small business ventures. Guayas prison
implemented a "Blue Concept" project which involves 32
prisoners who construct labs within prison to raise Tilapia
fish, shrimp, algae, guinea pigs, turtles, and iguanas which
are sold or consumed. Participants must complete a six month
biology and aquaculture course. Restaurants, bakeries, and
Laundromats are owned by and service prisoners.
Americans in Ecuadorian Prisons
20. In Ecuador, there are 56 Americans in prison, ten
females and 46 males. There are 20 in Quito, 34 in
Guayaquil, and one in Ibarra and Tulcan. All but 5 prisoners
are being held on drug charges with sentences that range from
four to 20 years. Nine are not yet sentenced.
21. USAID's pilot initiative in Cuenca shows that change can
happen, but replicating those results nationwide would be a
major challenge. More political and legal reforms are
needed, such as further revision of the Penal Code to ensure
due process and a more efficient and transparent justice
system, alternative punishments, emphasis on a preventative
role within the police system, and improved financing and
budgets for prisons. Building more prisons will help, but
truly solving the crisis will also demand improvement in the
physical conditions of detention centers, presence of
qualified medical personnel, adequate food and rehabilitation
resources, and firm action on reports of human rights abuses.