A deadly riot between gangs in a prison in Ecuador has left at least 116 people killed with another 80 injured and five beheaded.
President Guillermo Lasso decreed a state of emergency in Ecuador’s prison system, allowing the government to deploy the police and soldiers to penitentiaries among other powers. Authorities attributed Tuesday’s bloodshed at the Litoral penitentiary in the coastal city of Guayaquil to gangs linked to international drug cartels fighting for control of the lockup.
Lasso, visibly affected, said at a news conference that what was happening in the Guayaquil prison was “bad and sad” and he could not for the moment guarantee that authorities had regained control of the lockup.
“It is regrettable that the prisons are being turned into territories for power disputes by criminal gangs,” he said, adding that he would act with “absolute firmness” to regain control of the Litoral prison and prevent the violence from spreading to other penitentiaries.
Images circulating on social media showed dozens of bodies in the prison’s Pavilions 9 and 10 and scenes that looked like battlefields. The fighting was with firearms, knives and bombs, officials said. Earlier, regional police commander Fausto Buenaño had said that bodies were being found in the prison’s pipelines.
Outside the prison morgue, the relatives of inmates wept, with some describing to reporters the cruelty with which their loved ones were killed, decapitated and dismembered.
“In the history of the country, there has not been an incident similar or close to this one,” said Ledy Zúñiga, the former president of Ecuador’s National Rehabilitation Council.
Zúñiga, who was also the country’s minister of justice in 2016, said she regretted that steps had not been taken to prevent another massacre following deadly prison riots last February.
Earlier, officials said the violence erupted from a dispute between the “Los Lobos” and “Los Choneros” prison gangs.
Col. Mario Pazmiño, the former director of Ecuador’s military intelligence, said the bloody fighting shows that “transnational organized crime has permeated the structure” of Ecuador’s prisons, adding that Mexico’s Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels operate through local gangs.