Ten inmates have been killed in a riot at a prison in Ecuador’s capital Quito, which authorities said took place as a result of the government’s decision to relocate three crime bosses to a high-security facility.
The prison riot and killings are the latest challenge for the country’s prison system, in which some 400 inmates have been killed in gang-related violence since last year, the prison authority said.
The latest unrest broke out on Friday at El Inca prison shortly after the government said it was moving inmates it suspected of being the masterminds behind previous prison disturbances to a maximum security prison.
One of the prisoners whose relocation sparked the violence, Los Lobos gang leader Jonathan Bermudez, had been responsible for previous killings at El Inca, according to a statement from the president’s office.
The prison authority said that “members of this criminal organization (Los Lobos) undertook violent reprisals” for the relocation of Bermudez to another prison.
Police commander Victor Herrera told reporters the prison had been secured, with heavy security deployed as forensics personnel removed the bodies of those killed. Herrera said the cause of death “appeared to be strangulation”.
Since February 2021, Ecuador has experienced eight prison massacres that left about 400 dead; many of the victims were beheaded or burned.
The last gang-led prison riot was on November 8 in Quito, in which five inmates died.
Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso said the country would not be intimidated by gang leaders.
“We told them that our hand would not tremble,” Lasso said on Twitter of the gang leaders’ transfer on Friday, warning of “the same fate for those who continue with their attempts to break the peace of Ecuadorans”.
Advertimos que no nos dejaremos intimidar por mafias narcotraficantes, ahora tendrán que enfrentar todo el rigor de la ley. pic.twitter.com/eHBcrvjdPU
— Guillermo Lasso (@LassoGuillermo) November 18, 2022
Lasso also thanked law enforcement agencies for restoring order to the prison and tackling what he described as “narco-terrorist leaders”.
Earlier this month, Lasso’s government relocated some 2,400 inmates, triggering an uprising by gang members on the streets who went on shooting sprees and set off car bombs at gas and police stations.
Eight people, including five police members, were killed during the attacks in the port city of Guayaquil.
Lasso responded to those attacks by declaring a state of emergency and a night-time curfew in the provinces of Guayas, Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas. He also deployed troops to the three provinces, home to a third of Ecuador’s 18 million people.
Once a relatively peaceful neighbour of leading cocaine producers Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has gone from being a drug transit route to a vital distribution centre racked by drug violence.
Authorities blame the wave of violent crime on rival gangs with ties to Mexican cartels.