Ecuador: Prison Violence Leaves 68 Dead and Dozens Injured
By: Laura Nayere
About 68 prisoners lost their lives, and more than two dozen were injured after a night of violence at Ecuador’s Penitenciaria del Litoral prison on Friday, government sources told Reuters.
This prison, situated in the southern city of Guayaquil, is also where 119 inmates were killed in September in what had been the country's worst-ever prison bloodbath. According to the government, the fighting that lasted for eight hours resulted from a confrontation between rival gangs and international drug cartels.
According to videos published by Ticker News, dozens of prisoners’ families and friends had gathered outside the prison on Saturday afternoon waiting for news of loved ones, who many said they had not heard from since Friday afternoon.
General Police commander, Tannya Varela, characterised the violence as being among rival gangs. “These events are due to a territory dispute by criminal gangs inside the prison. At the moment, there are certain pavilions that are without leaders because this may be surprising to all citizens, but the leaders were released after having served 60% of their sentence,” he told TN.
“Enough of this. When will they stop the killing? This is a prison, not a slaughterhouse. They are human beings,” Francisca Chancay, 55, whose brother has been in prison for eight months, told Al-Jazeera.
"What is happening inside is reprehensible, people killing each other, and the saddest thing is they have no conscience," said 58-year-old Cristina Monserrat to Reuters. "My brother is alive. My heart tells me so."
Residents living near the prison told the Washington Post of hearing hours of sustained gunfire and explosions coming from inside the prison grounds. As per officials, the killing began just before dawn, with the shooting lasting around eight hours and new clashes being reported in parts of the prison through the afternoon. Videos circulating on social media showed bodies, some burned, lying on the ground inside.
In the initial fighting, inmates “tried to dynamite a wall to get into Pavilion 2 to carry out a massacre. They also burned mattresses to try to drown (their rivals) in smoke,” said the governor of Guayas province, Pablo Arosemena, to the Associated Press. The incident comes in the wake of President Guillermo Lasso declaring a state of emergency, empowering security forces to clamp down on runaway levels of drug trafficking and other crimes.
So far, Ecuador has lost over 300 inmates to prison clashes this year, a figure more than double the total in all of 2020. In addition, there has been growing violence in prisons since 2018, raising questions on the safety of inmates at jails.
There has been a wave of disturbances in the South American country's prisons, which house some 39,000 detainees, since the December 2020 killing of 'Rasquina,' the leader of the Los Choneros gang, months after his release from prison.
His death, officials had told the media at the time, prompted lesser-known gangs to compete for influence over the country's prisons. In addition, gang rivalries are connected to competition for drug trafficking alliances with international cartels.
Previously, a February incident that killed 79 detainees was a response to Rasquina's death. Another 22 people died in a July riot. Last month, the head of Ecuador’s prison authority announced that as many as 2,000 prisoners would be pardoned in an attempt to reduce overcrowding in its detention centres.
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