Ecuador Announces Plan to Build Two ‘Bukele-Style’ Mega Prisons

Office of Presidency-El Salvador
Office of Presidency-El Salvador

President of Ecuador Daniel Noboa announced on Thursday that the South American country will soon begin construction of two maximum-security prisons in the same style as the “mega-prison” built by Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele in 2023.

The announcement is part of the “Phoenix Plan,” a broader list of security-related measures that Noboa, a 36-year-old outsider who took office in November, is seeking to enact to curb Ecuador’s rampant crime, gang violence, and drug trafficking.

The Associated Press

Newly sworn-in President Daniel Noboa waves from a balcony of the Carondelet presidential palace in Quito, Ecuador, on November 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Carlos Noriega)

In an interview given to Radio Sucre, Noboa explained that the two “Bukele-style” prisons will be ready within ten to 11 months and construction work is slated to begin on January 11.

“They are going to be the same, because it is the same company, under the same design, that made the maximum security prisons in Mexico and that made them in El Salvador,” Noboa said. “So, for all the Bukele lovers,’ it is the same prison. If they want to go, walk around, get to know it, stay one night — go commit a crime.”

Noboa explained that one of the prisons will be located in the eastern Pastaza province and the other in southeastern Santa Elena, as these two “are the areas of least influence of the narco-terrorist groups.”

“The worst place to put a prison is next to where the criminals live,” Noboa said, adding that the goal is to separate the most dangerous inmates to stop prison massacres and prevent prison riots similar to ones that took place in 2023.

Ecuador has experienced a steady increase in violent crime for years, culminating in a crime wave that turned the country into the tenth most violent in the region in 2022. Authorities registered 4,603 violent deaths that year and over 3,500 during the first half of 2023. The crime in Ecuador has also claimed the lives of several politicians last year and resulted in death threats from local gangs against several others.

Fernando Villavicencio, an anti-socialist and anti-China journalist who ran against Noboa in the 2023 election, was assassinated in August as he was leaving a campaign rally. Days later, a shootout took place near one of Noboa’s campaign rallies, with no reported injured.

Former Assembly member and presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, gestures outside the Attorney General’s Office in Quito on August 8, 2023. (RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images)

Last year, former conservative President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in three of Ecuador’s provinces amidst a violent wave of crime that left several dead, including the then-recently elected Mayor of Manta Agustín Intriago.

Noboa was elected to conclude the remainder of Lasso’s 2021-2025 term after Lasso used a constitutional provision commonly referred to as “mutually assured death” to dissolve Congress and call for new presidential elections. Lasso used the measure unprecedentedly in response to socialist lawmakers continuously attempting to impeach him, making it impossible for Lasso to govern.

Noboa called for a referendum this week to ask the Ecuadoran electorate 11 questions in a nationwide vote, the majority of which are security-related and part of his plan to curb crime and gang violence.

The draft questions were submitted to Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, which will review them over the next few days, issuing observations and ruling on their legal viability for the eventual electoral event.

President of Ecuador Guillermo Lasso Mendoza speaks during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at the United Nations headquarters on September 20, 2023, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Some of the proposed questions suggest lengthening prison sentences for drug trafficking, terrorism, homicides, arms trafficking, and other crimes, as well as using the nation’s armed forces to fight against local criminal gangs. Another question will seek to ask approval to reform Ecuador’s migration and deportation protocols to strengthen the country’s security.

Additionally, a separate question seeks to ask approval to reopen casinos in Ecuador after they were banned during the administration of former socialist President Rafael Correa.

“It is possible to fight crime, to have a justice system that responds with harsher and firmer penalties and, above all, to create new jobs for Ecuador,” Noboa said during the referendum’s announcement.

Last month, Noboa announced that Ecuador would rent three prison-ships to house the gang leaders that currently operate in the country’s prisons. The ships will be anchored 80 miles off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, with their rent costs reportedly set at $8 million each and will be leased for a period of eight to ten years.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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