Ecuador starts building prison for ‘narco terrorists’

Daniel Noboa (right) at his inauguration in November (Asamblea Nacional del Ecuador/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Ecuador has begun work on a $52m prison for people convicted of belonging to drug cartels.

The move follows a decision by Ecuador’s new president Daniel Noboa, elected in November, to take action against the gangs, which he said had established control over large areas of the country. 

The 800-person capacity prison is being built in the southern coastal town of Santa Elena, which occupies a small peninsula.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, Noboa said: “Today we mark one of the most important milestones in our fight against terrorism and the mafias that have entrenched themselves with impunity in our country for decades.”

He said the government would “reclassify and isolate highly dangerous criminals, the leaders of the mafias, who will be monitored in real-time”.

General Luis Zaldumbide, director of SNAI, the state prisons agency, said the building would be built in a “record time” of 300 days.

Ecuador entered a state of virtual civil war in January following the escape from prison of Jose Adolfo Macias, known by the alias “Fito”.

Noboa imposed a state of emergency and a curfew, but the gangs hit back with a “declaration of war”, and threatened to execute civilians and security forces.

They also instigated prison riots, set off explosions in public places and waged attacks in which at least 14 people were killed and 136 prison guards and administrative staff taken hostage – and later freed unhurt.

The president redesignated drug gang members as “terrorists”, which allowed police greater latitude in dealing with them.

Ecuadorian prisons have themselves become centres of violent crime, with more than 460 inmates killed in gang-related violence over the past three years.

The conflict is between the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, allied with the local Los Choneros group, and another Mexican gang, the Jalisco New Generation, which has joined forces with Ecuador’s Los Tiguerones.

The prison is the first of two maximum security centres promised by Nobao during his election campaign.

The move follows the apparent success of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, whose crackdown on organised crime led to the opening of the Cecot “mega-prison” in January 2023.

This move has been criticised by human rights NGOs, but has proved popular with the Salvadorian  public.

  • Subscribe here to get stories about construction around the world in your inbox three times a week.

Further reading:

Story for GCR? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest articles in News