Colombian cocaine traffickers and guerrillas have long used Ecuador’s territory for operations, and in recent years began diverting a growing share of exports to neighboring countries, as the Colombian authorities stepped up controls at ports and airports.
Ecuador’s overcrowded prisons have become increasingly violent over the past three years, as drug gangs gained effective control.
The violence worsened after prisons were forced to cut their budgets under an austerity program adopted by Ecuador’s financially struggling government, said Daniela Oña, who studies human rights abuses in Ecuadorean jails.
“It is a multidimensional problem,” Ms. Oña said, noting that there is now “less money for psychology, sports, culture, social work — all these factors that prevent a proper social rehabilitation.”
In December, five inmates died in a prison brawl among members of a local drug gang, according to the police. In 2019, two dozen Ecuadorean inmates died in a series of mutinies, with two victims burned alive.
José María León Cabrera reported from Quito, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Caracas, Venezuela.