Ecuador nearly doubled its number of prison guards on Monday as it tries to crack down on brutal violence between drug gangs that has left some 400 dead behind bars since 2021.
A battle for control of the drug trade in the small country has played out in its prisons, mainly in the port city of Guayaquil, which has become a new nerve center in the global drug trade.
Authorities announced the deployment of 1,461 new prison guards joining the current crop of about 1,500 officers, who at times have been severely outnumbered in a country with 32,000 inmates.
“We are almost doubling the human resources needed for the professional, serious, and technical management of all of Ecuador’s detention centers,” said President Guillermo Lasso during the graduation ceremony of the new officers.
Since February 2021, Ecuador has experienced eight prison massacres that left about 400 dead in grisly scenes where many were beheaded or burnt.
Lasso said the deployment of the new guards was part of a plan to restore control of the country’s 36 prisons and “put an end to the acts of violence that have taken place there recently.”
Lasso plans to improve conditions in prisons, notably by reducing the inmate population via pardons and a prison census.
He said that overcrowding had gone from 26 percent to six percent since his election in May 2021.
While Ecuador does not have large drug production or cartels, it has become a significant conduit for cocaine from neighboring Colombia and Peru, due to weaker controls at its main port and its dollar economy.
Mexican, Colombian and Balkan mafia are all involved in the trade, pitting local gangs against each other as they jockey for alliances and control of the drug route.