Fighting between prison gangs in Ecuador at least 68 inmates
Quito A long gun battle between rival gangs inside Ecuador’s largest prison killed at least 68 inmates and wounded 25 on Saturday, while authorities said clashes were still out of control hours later at Litoral prison, which recently witnessed the country’s worst bloodbath.
The killing erupted before dawn in a prison in the coastal city of Guayaquil in what officials described as the latest outbreak of infighting between prison gangs linked to international drug gangs. Videos spread on social media showed bodies lying on the ground inside the prison, some of them burned.
At the beginning of the fight, which lasted eight hours, the prisoners “attempted to blow up one of the walls with dynamite to get to Ward 2 to carry out a massacre. They burned mattresses in an attempt to drown their rivals in smoke,” Guayas Governor Pablo Arosimena said.
“We are fighting drug trafficking,” Arosimena said. “very Difficult.”
“We have information that there have been new clashes in Litoral prison … inmates of Room 12 attacked inmates of Room 7, trying to gain control,” presidential spokesman Carlos Gijon said in the late afternoon.
He said about 700 police officers were trying to get the situation under control, with a unit inside the prison. He did not say whether the authorities had regained control of the compound or not whether there were more victims.
The bloodshed came less than two months after gang fighting killed 119 people in the prison, which houses more than 8,000 inmates.
Early in the day, the police chief, General Tania Varela, said that drones flying over the chaos revealed that inmates in three wings were armed with guns and explosives. Authorities said weapons and ammunition are smuggled to prisoners through vehicles carrying supplies and sometimes by drones.
The violence in the prisons comes amid a national emergency issued by President Guillermo Lasso in October that enables security forces to combat drug trafficking and other crimes.
On Saturday, Lasso tweeted that “the first right we must guarantee must be the right to life and liberty, which is not possible if security forces cannot act for protection.” He was referring to the Constitutional Court’s recent refusal to allow the army to enter prisons despite the state of emergency. Soldiers are currently out of Litoral.
Prisons in Ecuador are experiencing a wave of brutal violence.
Authorities described the bloody fight inside the Littoral prison that killed 119 inmates in late September as the worst prison massacre in the South American nation’s history. Officials said at least five of the dead had been beheaded. Last February, 79 inmates were killed in simultaneous riots in various prisons. So far this year, more than 300 prisoners have died in prison clashes across Ecuador.
Outside the prison, relatives of prisoners gathered to get news of their loved ones.
When do they stop the killing? Francesca Chancay, whose brother has been in prison for eight months, said, “This is a prison and not a slaughterhouse, they are human beings.”
Some have called on the Ecuadorean army to take control of the prisons.
“What is the lasso waiting for? Were there more deaths?” said Maritza Vera, her son, a guest. “Have mercy, where are the human rights? We thought this would change, but it’s worse.”
Ecuador has about 40 thousand inmates in the prison system, which is much higher than the capacity of 30 thousand inmates. Of this total, 15,000 people were not judged.
Arosimena said authorities in Ecuador will deal with prison overcrowding by granting amnesty, resettling inmates, and repatriating some foreign prisoners.
“There will be over 1,000 amnesties,” he said, “but this is part of a process.”
The governor of Guayas also said that Ecuador will receive international aid from countries such as Colombia, the United States, Israel and Spain to deal with the crisis in its prisons. Assistance will be with resources and logistics.
“For example, installing a freight scanner in Guayaquil prison to avoid entry of weapons costs $4 million,” Arosimena said.
Vera said the situation is making inmates’ families desperate.
“I feel sad and in pain because death is too much,” Vera said.
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