The former police colonel was assassinated after serving 22 days in his position as director.
A former Colonel of the Police, Santiago Loza, had come out of retirement to run the Pichincha No. 1 Male Provisional Detention Center, known as the El Inca prison. Twenty-two days after taking office, Loza was assassinated by hitmen in the Gualo sector, in the north of Quito, on Simón Bolívar Avenue, one of the city’s busiest streets.
His short tenure was not easy. He assumed the leadership of a prison where violence has escalated in the last two years as the epicenter of two prison massacres. One of them, during his administration, was on November 18, 2022.
Colonel Santiago Loza did not have many public appearances. His first was on November 9th, when he took office at the El Inca prison. The second came when he had to go out to face the demands of the families of the prisoners in the prison, on November 18th during the country’s eleventh prison massacre—after the transfer of Jhonatan José Bermúdez Fuentes, alias ‘El Primo’ or alias ‘El Piloto,’ the leader of the Los Lobos criminal gang.
That day, at least ten inmates were killed. The vast majority, police say, were strangled. After the homicides, three other inmates were transferred to the same prison where El Primo arrived: the La Roca maximum security prison, in Guayaquil.
He was appointed director of El Inca, where 1,385 people are confined, and where just two days before the country’s tenth prison massacre had left at least five people dead.
The violence, according to the Police and the National Service for Comprehensive Care for Persons Deprived of Liberty and Adolescent Offenders (SNAI), was ordered by the leaders of Los Lobos who are out of prison and was executed by one of their ringleaders in that jail, ‘El Primo,’ arrested earlier in 2022 during an operation carried out in the north of Quito.
President Guillermo Lasso said that there are clues as to who killed Loza, but the exact reason for his violent death is still unknown.
Who was Santiago Loza and how was his short tenure?
Santiago Power Loza Moscoso was a 53-year-old Ecuadorian retired colonel of the Police. He sent most of his career with the Police department, but also had a role in the in the Quito Metropolitan Transit Agency.
In November 2022, he assumed the role of Director of the El Inca prison. He is survived by two daughters and a son.
His life was always close to the public force. According to the student records of the Ministry of Education, he completed his college education in the Ecuadorian Air Force N.1 school and graduated on July 24, 1987. His specialty was mathematical physics.
Years later, he would enter the National Police to begin his career. And by 2013, when he was a lieutenant colonel, he reached the rank of police chief of the Esteros district, located in the south of Guayaquil. He was in that position for almost three years, before voluntarily requesting his removal from the government of Rafael Correa in 2016. It was made official via Decree 1901 and signed on June 10th of that year.
Santiago Loza retired as a Police colonel, which —within the institution’s hierarchy— is the highest position within the role of operational coordination.
In accordance with Decree 1901, the Council of Generals of the National Police resolved Colonel Loza’s discharge request on April 6, 2016, and it became effective two months later.
As a policeman, Colonel Loza did have a judicial setback. In 1999 he was denounced for an alleged illegal detention —although there is no further detail of what happened in the records of the judicial function.
And in September of that year, the third court of the IV District of the National Police dismissed it provisionally. By 2014, Judge Cecilia Araujo, of the Multi-Competent Criminal Judicial Unit of the Santa Rosa canton, in El Oro, definitively dismissed it and the case was closed.
After his retirement from the Police, Colonel Loza decided to work at the Metropolitan Agency for the Control of Land Transportation, Traffic and Road Safety where he served as director of Traffic Engineering and Road Safety. He was there until 2021.
A year later, on November 9, 2022, he accepted what was a challenge for him: the leadership of the El Inca prison, which two days before had been the site of a prison massacre that left five dead.
A death in a violent context
Because of the large number of prison riots in 2022, by November 1st, a few days before Loza took over as director of El Inca, the SNAI had completed almost 2,700 prisoner transfers, including relocations to other prisons or internally in prisons such as the Litoral Penitentiary.
That same day, a series of unprecedented attacks in Guayaquil, Esmeraldas, Durán and Santo Domingo left five police officers dead and infrastructure damage in various Community Police Units.
The SNAI said that the transfers would continue, and the next transferees would arrive at the El Inca prison.
In addition to the transfers, several incidents occurred in the prisons during that time.
On November 14th, a series of videos were released to the media in which six criminal gangs, including Los Lobos and Los Tiguerones, announced a “peace agreement.” But authorities said they “did not know” about the recording made in three Ecuadorian prisons.
On November 17th, several media organizations reported the mass escape of 26 prisoners from the Litoral Penitentiary.
Although the Police confirmed the recapture of two inmates, the SNAI maintained its silence on the escape. On December 1st, an official from the communication department of the prison said that there is still no official information.
Nonetheless, two days after the escape, before 8 a.m. on November 18th, the government and the SNAI announced —without responding to the prisoner escape— the transfer of Jonathan Bermúdez, alias ‘El Primo,’ as the main promoter of the tenth prison massacre on November 7th in El Inca.
The soon-to-be director Santiago Loza was there, although the person seen in the official videos was the then current director of the SNAI, Lieutenant Colonel Guillermo Rodríguez. Four hours later, at approximately twelve o’clock, ten prisoners were murdered in that same jail, after the transfers.
That same day, there were three other transfers to La Roca from the El Inca prison. Juan Saltos, alias ‘Sargento,’ Milton Quintana, alias ‘Junior,’ and David Gualotuña, alias ‘Hormiga,’ all presumed members of Los Lobos, were also taken to La Roca after confirming the murder of the ten prisoners in El Inca prison.
According to prison sources, alias Sargento was going to assume leadership and control of the El Inca prison, which was previously ruled by the Latin Kings nation and the well-known Fabricio Colón Pico, who was one of the most wanted people in Pichincha as far back as 2012. Sergeant was a prisoner who supposedly “kept” calm. Now, he is one of three men held responsible for the 11th prison massacre, although one source says it was ‘El Primo’ who ordered the killings.
Colonel Loza was murdered 13 days after the eleventh massacre and the transfers from El Inca to La Roca.
Santiago Loza was hit by gunmen’s bullets while he was going to work at 8:30 in the morning. His murder puts his family in mourning and leaves a feeling of uncertainty in Quito, a city that, unlike areas of greater conflict, has not witnessed selective violent deaths on a daily basis.
Even though the prison that Loza led was in conflict, he was traveling without protection or custody, when the men who were traveling on a motorcycle shot him.
The violent death of Colonel Loza has not been the only death of prison directors. One of the most recent was that of Gavis Moreno, who was director of the Guayaquil women’s prison. She was assassinated by hitmen on March 27, 2018. Years earlier, in April 2007, Soledad Rodríguez, director of the Litoral Penitentiary, was murdered by order of the late William Poveda, alias ‘Cubano,’ who was sentenced to 28 years in prison for her death.
Added to Loza’s death are the murders of other officials whose work is linked, in one way or another, to justice in the country: in 2022 alone, six judges and prosecutors have been assassinated.
Alexandra Zumárraga, former national director of Social Rehabilitation, says that there needs to be serious discussion held at the highest levels about these attacks on justice. Two attempts were made on her life in 2010.
“Deaths like that of Colonel Loza not only demonstrate the level of criminal governance in the country, but also the level of impunity for the deaths of prison personnel, for example. The State is also responsible for these deaths due to the lack of guarantees for their work,” she said.