The death toll from bloody clashes between rival gangs in an Ecuador prison reached 116, with nearly 80 more wounded, President Guillermo Lasso said Wednesday, as soldiers surrounded the facility – one of the country's many overburdened and understaffed jails.
Inmates went to war armed with guns and grenades on Tuesday at the Guayaquil prison complex: a clash between prisoners believed to be linked to Mexican drug gangs – mainly the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.
President Lasso announced the new toll at a late Wednesday press conference, describing the prison slaughter as an "unfortunate event."
Soldiers and a tank guarded the complex Wednesday as police on horseback patrolling the perimeter were confronted by worried family members of the men locked up inside.
"We want information because we don't know anything about our families, our sons," said one woman, who would not give her name. "I have my son there."
Tuesday's violence was the latest in a series of bloody prison clashes that have claimed the lives of nearly 200 inmates in Ecuador so far this year.
The SNAI prison authority said in a tweet that the death of "more than 100" prisoners had been confirmed, with 52 more wounded.
At least six were beheaded, the national prosecutor's office said earlier in the day, adding that two police officers were wounded in the operation to retake control of the prison.
Officers were attacked by inmates with guns.
Earlier in the day, Lasso announced on Twitter that he was declaring a "state of exception," which will allow him to suspend rights and use public force to restore calm.
Lasso said that he would head a security committee in Guayaquil to control the emergency, but also guaranteed protection of "human rights for all those involved."
A police charge on the prison had prevented "more deaths," said the police chief for the city of Guayaquil, Fausto Buenano.
Ecuador's prison system has become a battleground for thousands of prisoners with ties to powerful Mexican drug gangs.
On February 23, simultaneous riots at four jails including Guayaquil left 79 inmates dead, several of them beheaded.
Last week, police confiscated two pistols, a revolver, some 500 rounds of ammunition, a hand grenade, several knives, two sticks of dynamite and homemade explosives at one of the city's prisons.
Two weeks ago, Guayaquil's Prison Number 4 was attacked by drones, part of "a war between international cartels," prison authorities said. There were no casualties in that attack.
"There has been a prison crisis since 2010, with an average of 25 homicides per year, but it has accelerated significantly from 2017 to the peak of this year," Ecuadoran security expert Fernando Carrion told AFP.
Ecuador's prison system has 65 facilities designed for about 30,000 but which house an actual population of 39,000 inmates. There are chronic staffing shortages.
The country's human rights ombudsman said there were 103 killings in prisons in 2020, with corruption enabling inmates to bring in arms and ammunition.
Located between Colombia and Peru, the world's leading cocaine producers, Ecuador is a key transit for drug shipments to the United States and Europe.
Guayaquil is Ecuador's most populous city and its main port.
Between January and August Ecuadoran authorities seized about 116 tons of drugs, mainly cocaine, compared to 128 tons in all of 2020.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned the ongoing violence in Ecuador's prisons.
Deadly unrest in Latin America's jails
With at least 116 dead after clashes between prisoners in an Ecuador jail, here is a look at the deadliest riots in recent years in Latin America's notoriously overcrowded jails.
Over the past three decades, there have been several massive prison riots that left more than 100 inmates dead.
In 2005, a fire ripped through an overcrowded prison in the Dominican Republic's eastern city of Higuey after a dawn riot, leaving at least 135 people dead.
In 1994, 121 inmates were killed after prisoners set fire to three prison blocks during a riot at Sabaneta prison in Venezuela's northern city of Maracaibo.
In 1992 in Brazil, 111 prisoners were killed when security forces put down a riot at the enormous Carandiru jail outside São Paulo. The massacre was later portrayed in an acclaimed 2003 film, Carandiru.
Tuesday's bloodshed in Guayaquil is believed to be linked to a "war" between Mexican drug gangs. It is the fifth major incident in the port city's prison in just over a year.
In all, some 200 inmates have died in violence in Ecuador's jails so far this year as they have become a battleground for thousands of prisoners with ties to powerful Mexican cartels.
More than 100 died in clashes last year – with many beheaded – with corruption allowing inmates to smuggle in arms and ammunition.
Ecuador's prison system has 65 facilities designed for about 30,000 inmates but a population of 39,000, watched over by 1,500 guards – a shortfall of about 2,500, according to experts.
Deadly riots are frequent in Brazil's overcrowded prisons, which roughly hold twice the number of inmates they were built for.
With more than 702,000 prisoners, Brazil has the world's third-largest prison population after China and the United States.
In late May 2019, at least 55 prisoners were killed in several jails over two days in the northwestern state of Amazonas.
Two months later 57 died in a battle between rival gangs in a prison in Altamira in northern Brazil.
On April 11, 2018, at least 21 died in an attempted breakout from a prison near the northern city of Belem.
In early 2017, deadly riots left around 100 prisoners dead in the space of a month – many were decapitated and even disemboweled.
Venezuela also has a long and bloody history of prison unrest, almost matching Brazil's grisly record of 756 death since 1992.
In May 2020, 47 prisoners died after a riot sparks by food shortages in a jail in the western city of Guanare.
In May 2019, at least 29 prisoners were killed in clashes at a jail in the western town of Acarigua.
March 28, 2018 saw one of the worst prison riots in Venezuela, with 68 people dying in a blaze in a police station jail in the northern city of Valencia.
In August 2017, 37 were killed in a jailhouse in the southern Venezuelan state of Amazonas.
by Santiago Piedra Silva, AFP