Quito: A prolonged gunbattle between rival gangs inside Ecuador’s largest prison killed at least 68 inmates and wounded 25 on Saturday, while authorities said clashes were still uncontrolled hours later at the Litoral Penitentiary, which recently saw the country’s worst prison bloodbath.
The killing erupted before dawn at the prison in the coastal city of Guayaquil in what officials said was the latest outbreak of fighting among prison gangs linked to international drug cartels. Videos circulating on social media showed bodies, some burned, lying on the ground inside the prison.
In the initial fighting, which lasted eight hours, inmates “tried to dynamite a wall to get into Pavilion 2 to carry out a massacre. They also burned mattresses to try to to drown (their rivals) in smoke,” said the governor of Guayas province, Pablo Arosemena.
“We are fighting against drug trafficking,” Arosemena said. “It is very hard.”
Presidential spokesman Carlos Jijón said late in the afternoon that “we have information that new clashes are reported in the Litoral Penitentiary … the inmates of Hall 12 attacked those of Hall 7, attempting to take control.”
He said about 700 police officers were trying to control the situation, with a contingent inside the prison. He did not clarify whether authorities had regain control of the compound or say whether there had been any more casualties.
The bloodshed came less than two months after fighting among gangs killed 119 people at the prison, which houses more than 8,000 inmates.
Police commander Gen. Tanya Varela said early in the day that drones flown over the chaos revealed that inmates in three pavilions were armed with guns and explosives. Authorities have said that weapons and ammunition are smuggled into prisoners through vehicles that deliver supplies and sometimes by drones.
The prison violence comes amid a national state of emergency decreed by President Guillermo Lasso in October that empowers security forces to fight drug trafficking and other crimes.
On Saturday, Lasso 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.” He was referring the Constitutional Court’s recent refusal to allow the military into prisons despite the state of emergency. Soldiers are currently outside the Litoral.