Dozens of inmates have been killed in fierce clashes in a prison in Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil, according to authorities.
“According to preliminary information, some 68 prisoners were killed and another 25 were wounded,” the Ecuador Prosecutor’s Office wrote on Twitter on Saturday, raising an earlier toll given by police of 58 people killed and 12 injured.
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The brawl at Penitenciaria del Litoral, on the outskirts of Guayaquil in Guayas province, was just one of several such incidents in the prison over the past few months. In September, a riot between rival gangs killed 119 prisoners.
Nearly 300 inmates have been killed this year in Ecuador’s broken prison system, where thousands of inmates tied to drug gangs square off in violent clashes that often turn into riots.
Residents living near the prison on Saturday reported hearing hours of sustained gunfire and explosions coming from inside the lockup. Outside, relatives of inmates gathered for news of their loved ones.
“Enough of this. When will they stop the killing? This is a prison not a slaughterhouse, they are human beings,” said Francisca Chancay, 55, whose brother has been in the prison for eight months.
Some were calling for Ecuador’s security forces to take control of the prisons.
“What is [President Guillermo] Lasso waiting for? That there are more deaths?″ said Maritza Vera, 62, whose son is an inmate. ”Have mercy, where are the human rights. We thought this was going to change, but it’s worse.”
The prison violence comes amid a national state of emergency decreed by Lasso in October that empowers security forces to fight drug trafficking and other crimes.
Ecuador has 40,000 inmates in its penitentiary system, of whom about 8,500 are in Litoral. According to prison services’ data, facilities are overcrowded by 55 percent at the national level and 62 percent in the Litoral facility.
Last month, the head of the country’s prison authority announced that as many as 2,000 prisoners would be pardoned in an attempt to reduce overcrowding in its detention centres.
Bolivar Garzon, director of the SNAI prison authority, said on October 1 that the government would prioritise the release of elderly and female prisoners, as well as those with disabilities and terminal illnesses.