Ecuador prison gang fight leaves at least 68 inmates dead

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Ecuador prison gang fight leaves at least 68 inmates dead

At least 68 inmates were killed and 25 more injured when two rival gangs exchanged gunfire and detonated explosives inside of an Ecuadorian prison on Saturday.

Over 900 law enforcement officers spent most of the day trying to quell the violence — which lasted for around 8 hours — at the Litoral Penitentiary in the coastal city of Guayaquil, which officials have linked to international drug cartels.

Graphic videos circulating on social media showed bodies, some burned, lying on the ground inside the prison. Presidential spokesman Carlos Jijón said in a statement that after nightfall “the situation is controlled throughout the penitentiary.” 

According to Governor of the Guayas province Pablo Arosemana, 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.”

“We are fighting against drug trafficking,” Arosemena said. “It is very hard.”

At least 25 people were injured in the prison battle.
At least 25 people were injured in the prison battle.
AP

Police responding to the prison employed drones to catch a bird’s-eye view of the chaos, which revealed inmates in three of the prison’s pavilions armed with guns and explosives. Authorities said the weapons and ammunition were smuggled through vehicles delivering supplies as well as by drones.

Prison violence has been surging in the South American country. Just two months ago, 119 people were killed in a battle between rival gangs at the same prison, which houses over 8,000 inmates. During the battle, which is considered the deadliest prison event in Ecuador’s history, at least five of those killed were beheaded. 

In February, 79 inmates were killed in riots that erupted at various prisons throughout the country. More than 300 prisoners have been killed due to prison violence so far this year.

Security forces arrive at Litoral Penitentiary the morning after riots broke out inside the jail on Nov. 13, 2021.
Security forces arrive at Litoral Penitentiary the morning after riots broke out inside the jail on Nov. 13, 2021.
AP

President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in response to the violence in October, which permitted security forces to fight drug traffickers and other criminals.

On Saturday, he tweeted that “the first right that we should guarantee should be the right to life and liberty, which isn’t possible if security forces can’t act to protect.” That was reportedly a reference the Constitutional Court’s recent denial that would’ve allowed the military into prisons despite the state of emergency.

Soldiers were posted outside of the Litoral on Saturday night.

Family members of inmates desperately waited for news of their loved ones outside of the prison on Saturday night.

“Enough of this. When will they stop the killing? This is a prison not a slaughterhouse, they are human beings,” Francisca Chancay, whose brother has been in the prison for eight months, told The Associated Press.

An inmate's relative pleads for information following the prison riots.
An inmate’s relative pleads for information following the prison riots.
AP

Another called on Ecuador’s president to take military control of the country’s overcrowded prisons.

“What is Lasso waiting for? That there are more deaths?″ said Maritza Vera, whose son is an inmate. ”Have mercy, where are the human rights. We thought this was going to change, but it’s worse.”

Ecuador’s prison population has swollen to over 40,000 inmates, well beyond the country’s capacity of 30,000. Of those incarcerated, 15,000 have not even received their sentences.

The violence at the Ecuadorian prison lasted about eight hours.
The violence at the Ecuadorian prison lasted about eight hours.
AP

Officials plan to deal with the crowding by granting pardons and relocating inmates to other facilities.

“There will be more than 1,000 pardons, but this is part of a process,” Arosemana said.

The governor said that Ecuador expects aid from countries such as Colombia, the United States, Israel and Spain, who will provide logistical support.

“For example, installing a freight scanner in the Guayaquil Penitentiary to avoid the entry of arms costs $4 million,” said Arosemena.

With Post wires

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