Ecuador says 12 killed in latest deadly prison riot

Authorities lower death toll from 13 after riot at Bellavista prison as work continues to identify dismembered bodies.

Prison in Ecuador
Ecuador's prison agency says it is transferring 15 inmates from Bellavista prison, where the riot took place, to other detention centres in order to protect their safety [File: Dolores Ochoa/AP Photo]

Authorities in Ecuador say 12 people have been killed during a riot at a detention centre southwest of the capital, down from an earlier death toll of 13, as efforts continue to identify the dismembered bodies of the victims.

The violence broke out on Monday at Bellavista prison in Santo Domingo, 70km (43 miles) from Quito, the country’s prison agency first reported.

“Crime scene investigation teams have collected 45 human parts in the Santo Domingo penitentiary, which are 12 bodies and not 13,” Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“Forensic anthropologists and forensic doctors are moving to conduct autopsies of the dismembered bodies,” added the minister, who said the work could take days.

The incident is the latest bout of deadly violence to grip Ecuador’s prison system, which conservative President Guillermo Lasso’s government has blamed on confrontations between rival drug gangs linked to Mexican cartels.

In late April, Lasso declared a state of emergency in three provinces over rising drug-related violence. But less than two weeks later, on May 9, another riot between gangs inside Bellavista prison left at least 43 people dead.

Carrillo said during a news conference on Tuesday that current information indicated “most” of the victims were Venezuelan. He said it was “quite probable” more bodies would be found.

Meanwhile, Ecuador’s prison agency, known by its Spanish acronym SNAI, said it was transferring 15 inmates from Bellavista prison to other detention centres in order to protect their safety.

It also said it would provide relatives with information.

In another tweet, SNAI published photos of firearms, ammunition, knives and mobile phones that it said were found in the prison after the riot.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said Ecuador’s prison system is blighted by state abandonment and the absence of a comprehensive policy, as well as poor conditions for inmates.

Last year, 316 prisoners died during clashes in various prisons across Ecuador, prompting the government to pardon some 2,000 inmates in an effort to reduce overcrowding.

But the problem persists. The country’s prisons house about 33,900 people and are 12.5 percent beyond maximum capacity, according to official figures.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies