HomeNewsAnalysisEcuador Sends in Troops Amid Troubling Prison Gang Violence

Ecuador Sends in Troops Amid Troubling Prison Gang Violence


Officials in Ecuador have deployed armed forces to various prisons around the country in an effort to improve security within them, underscoring the consequences of leaving organized crime groups to thrive unchecked within the penitentiary system.

Ecuador's Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner announced on May 14 that members of the Andean nation’s armed forces have been sent to reinforce security outside of the country’s prisons while police reinforcements will tackle increased security inside the prisons.

The move comes as two of the country’s gangs, known as “Los Choneros" and "Los Cubanos," are waging a battle for control of drug trafficking and other illicit activities on the streets and within a number of the country’s regional prisons in Latacunga, Guayas and Turi, El Telégrafo reported.

This gang war appears to stretch back several years with regular flare-ups of violence. Earlier this month, the mother of suspected Cubanos member Darwin Corozo received an audio recording indicating that her son was going to be murdered. A short time later, two of Corozo's rivals in the Choneros stabbed him 31 times and killed him at the regional prison in Latacunga, just south of the capital Quito, according to El Telégrafo.

SEE ALSO: Ecuador News and Profile

A career criminal by the name of Jorge Luis Zambrano, alias “Rasquiña,” is thought to be the head of the Choneros’ operations. He has been in jail since 2011 on a variety of charges ranging from extortion and kidnapping to arms trafficking and murder.

On the other hand, William Poveda, alias “El Cubano,” is believed to be the leader of the Cubanos. His brother Walter, alias “El Caimán,” murdered a prison director in 2005 before meeting the same fate in 2012 at the hands of his rivals in a prison in Santo Domingo.

InSight Crime Analysis

The recent military deployment to prisons across Ecuador in an effort to restore order highlights the consequences officials are now facing after failing to address a prison problem -- much like other governments in Latin America -- that has been on the radar for years.

The Choneros are not a new organized crime group, nor are the group’s clashes with rival organizations contesting their criminal control inside and outside prison walls.

For more than a decade, the group has spread terror throughout the small town of Chone in Ecuador’s Pacific province of Manabí through violent murders carried out by hired hitmen, extortion, kidnapping and other crimes.

Primarily engaged in drug trafficking and allegedly acting as an armed wing for a Colombian criminal group, according to La Hora, the Choneros play a crucial role in this coastal province, which is increasingly becoming an important departure point for international drug shipments.

But with several of the group’s leaders serving time in jail, a number of internal conditions have allowed the Choneros to continue operating and exerting control over their rivals.

SEE ALSO: The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

To start, Ecuador’s prisons are severely understaffed and their prison guards underpaid, a combination that has fostered corruption. Across the country, there are only 1,500 guards for more than 40,000 inmates, or about one guard for every 27 prisoners. What’s more, prison guards earn a monthly salary of just $520, a rate some guards have been paid for 15 years, according to data from Ecuador’s national service for prisoners reported by El Telégrafo.

Such conditions lend themselves to official corruption. So far this year, 21 prison guards have been expelled from various penitentiaries across the country for helping inmates smuggle drugs, alcohol and other contraband into prisons.

That said, inmates are not afforded much support either, which could be vital in steering them away from engaging in criminal activity. Almost half of the country’s inmates are housed in prisons that are overcrowded. In addition, Ecuador’s prison system lacks effective professional training programs or education classes to help rehabilitate inmates, according to official data reported by El Telégrafo.

Such issues are not exclusive to the South American nation. Prison systems in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, among others, have suffered with similar problems. In some cases, prisons in Latin America are under the de facto rule of criminal groups, such as in Venezuela. This phenomenon has caused the region’s prisons to become breeding grounds for organized crime groups, rather than rehabilitation centers that aim to reintegrate inmates back into society.

But Ecuador’s prison issues have not yet reached the dire state of others in the region. Authorities still have a chance to reverse this trend. This is especially true if they look towards systems put in place in countries like Belize, where inmates have access to addiction treatment services, schooling and a variety of vocational courses to put them in a better position to positively impact society upon their release.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

BRAZIL / 26 OCT 2016

Brazil's two most powerful criminal organizations have broken a long-standing alliance and are fighting each other in a battle that…

MEXICO / 30 SEP 2020

A federal prison that housed some of Mexico’s most powerful crime bosses will shut down, marking the end for a…

BRAZIL / 16 MAY 2013

Authorities have dismantled two separate human trafficking rings in Ecuador and Brazil linked to South and East Asia, highlighting the…

About InSight Crime


Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…


Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…


Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…


InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…


Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…