According to authorities, six men who were arrested as suspects in the fatal assassination attempt on presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio were killed in riots at a prison in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil.
Those killed in the Guayas 1 detention center were Colombians accused of Villavicencio's murder, the penitentiary authority SNAI said on Friday (local time). Ecuador's head of state Guillermo Lasso, who was on a private trip to New York, said on the online service X, formerly Twitter, that he would immediately convene his security cabinet. "I will return to Ecuador in the coming hours to deal with this emergency," he added. Lasso originally wanted to travel to South Korea for official trade talks after his visit to the USA.
Former journalist and promising presidential candidate Villavicencio was shot dead on August 9, eleven days before the first round of the presidential election, on the way to his car in the capital Quito after a campaign event. Six Colombians were arrested after the deadly attack, and another suspected attacker was killed in a shootout with bodyguards.
The authorities initially released only scant information about the incident in Guayas 1 prison. The prosecutor's office said that "security protocols" were being carried out in light of the unrest. In order to get the situation back under control, "specialized military personnel" will examine the areas of the prison where the incidents began in the coming hours, the authority said on the online service X, formerly Twitter.
Guayas 1 houses around 6,800 prisoners and is one of the five detention centers that make up the large prison complex in Guayaquil. More than 31 people were killed there in a violent uprising in July. Bloody clashes between rival drug gangs often occur in Ecuador's chronically overcrowded prisons. Since the beginning of 2021, more than 430 prisoners have been killed in such fighting.
At the end of August, dozens of guards were taken hostage in several prisons across the country. According to local media reports, the affected area of Guayas 1 prison is controlled by the Los Aguilas group, one of several criminal gangs in Ecuador linked to Colombian or Mexican drug cartels such as Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación.
With its location between the major drug producing countries Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is an important hub for drug smuggling to the USA and Europe. Rival gangs with ties to international drug cartels are fighting for control – including in prisons. This has led to a significant increase in violence in Ecuador. Violence in prisons is one of the defining issues ahead of the second round of the presidential election on October 15. In the runoff election, the left-wing lawyer Luisa González and the right-wing Daniel Noboa are competing against each other.