Officials in Ecuador say more than 100 inmates have been killed and 52 others injured in a riot between rival gangs inside a prison, the latest in a series of deadly clashes in the Andean nation’s overpopulated and understaffed prison system.
The country’s prisons bureau said in a tweet on Wednesday evening, that “as of the moment more than 100 dead and 52 injured have been confirmed” after Tuesday’s riot at the facility in Guayaquil, a coastal city more than 400km (250 miles) southwest of the capital, Quito.
That is a massive jump from an earlier death toll of 30, which was confirmed by regional police commander Fausto Buenano. But Buenano said bodies found in the prison’s pipelines were still being identified.
Police and military officials regained control of the prison five hours after the riot erupted, Buenano had told reporters, and several weapons had been seized.
He added that police officers responded with “non-lethal weapons” as they were attacked by inmates armed with pistols, revolvers and rifles.
Located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s leading cocaine producers, Ecuador is a key transit point for drug shipments to the United States and Europe.
Between January and August this year, Ecuadorian authorities seized about 116 tonnes of drugs, mainly cocaine, compared with 128 tonnes in all of 2020.
Ecuador’s prison system has become a battleground between prisoners linked to Mexican drug gangs – mainly the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.
The most recent violence involved gunfire, knives and explosions and was caused by a dispute between the “Los Lobos” and “Los Choneros” prison gangs, officials said.
Television images showed inmates firing from the windows of the prison amid smoke and the detonation of firearms and explosives.
The government of Guayas state, where Guayaquil is located, posted images on its Twitter account showing six cooks being evacuated from one of the prison’s wings.
Last week, police confiscated two pistols, a revolver, some 500 rounds of ammunition, a hand grenade, several knives, two sticks of dynamite and homemade explosives at one of the city’s prisons.
Two weeks ago, Guayaquil’s Prison Number 4 was attacked by drones, part of “a war between international cartels”, prison authorities said. There were no casualties in that attack.
“There has been a prison crisis since 2010, with an average of 25 homicides a year, but it has accelerated significantly from 2017 to the peak of this year, in which we must have already surpassed 160 homicides,” Ecuadorian security expert Fernando Carrion told the AFP news agency.
In July, President Guillermo Lasso decreed a state of emergency in Ecuador’s prison system following several violent episodes that resulted in more than 120 inmates being killed so far this year.
In July, 27 more prisoners lost their lives at Litoral penitentiary, while in September a penitentiary centre was attacked by drones but no fatalities were reported.
Ecuador’s prison system has 65 facilities designed for about 30,000 inmates – but the country’s actual prison population sits at 39,000 and the system faces chronic staffing shortages.
The country’s human rights ombudsman said there were 103 killings in prisons in 2020, with corruption enabling inmates to bring in arms and ammunition.