Authorities in Ecuador continue to assess the toll of a days-long spate of prison violence, after President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in the country’s detention system in a push to restore calm.
Police said on Wednesday that they had recovered 11 bodies and 29 body parts after retaking control of various cellblocks at a prison in Guayaquil, a port city about 420km (260 miles) southwest of the capital, Quito.
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A day earlier, officials said at least 31 people had been killed in the violence, which broke out between rival gangs inside the Litoral prison at the weekend.
But a forensic effort at the prison is under way to determine the official death toll, Cesar Zapata, the police director of citizen security and public order, told reporters on Wednesday.
“We are carrying out a collection and verification of the exterior and interior to be able to determine exactly how many bodies there are,” said Zapata, who added the authorities were confirming whether the body parts belonged to already-recovered remains.
Meanwhile, 17 prison guards were being held hostage on Wednesday at a jail in the city of Esmeraldas, the country’s prison agency SNAI said.
Ecuador has seen several incidents of deadly violence in its prisons in recent years, with rights advocates raising concerns about overcrowding inside the facilities. Authorities have said much of the fighting is linked to battles over drug-trafficking routes.
Fewer than 3,000 guards are in charge of more than 31,000 inmates in 36 prisons around Ecuador, many of them overpopulated. Corruption is rife, and inmates are able to lay their hands on weapons and other contraband with relative ease.
A string of bloody clashes has killed at least 420 people in Ecuadorian prisons since 2021.
“With effort, commitment and continuous work, we will move forward and recover the peace that organised crime has taken from us,” Lasso, the president, said in a post this week on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, after the latest bout of violence.
“We have to be more united than ever to win this battle.”
Lasso announced a 60-day state of emergency in the country’s prisons on Tuesday, authorising thousands of police and military officers to be sent in to retake control.
A day earlier, he also declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Los Rios and Manabi, as well as in the city of Duran, after the mayor of the port city of Manta was fatally shot.
More than 100 prison officers held in jails around the country were freed on Tuesday, and SNAI said prisoners had lifted hunger strikes held at some facilities.
Military intervention in the prisons will continue until control has been retaken, and there is no threat to prisoners or officials, Lasso’s government has said.