Ecuador's police was still fighting to control a jailhouse in Guayaquil after a riot by inmates led to clashes that have so far resulted in 118 deaths in what turned out to be one of Latin America's worst prison massacres.
”The official figures at the CPL (Center for the Deprivation of Liberty) of Guayas are 118 PPL (persons deprived of liberty) deceased, 79 PPL injured), said the Police in a press statement regarding a riot which began Tuesday, when inmates of rival gangs with ties to Mexican drug trafficking cartels clashed with firearms.
Police Chief Tannya Varela also told reporters that the number of deaths could be higher as she feared there could be more bodies inside the penitentiary yet to be found.
President Guillermo Lasso had declared a state of exception Wednesday for 60 days, effective in the country's entire prison system. Lasso has traveled to Guayaquil to oversee the situation from a closer angle.
According to the Primicias website, the riot began when inmates of a gang celebrated the birthday of one of their detained leaders and boasted they controlled the facilities, which upset rival organizations in other wards and violence ensued.
Around 400 police officers carry out an intervention and search operation inside #CPLGuayas No. 1, to maintain order and guarantee security in the prison,” the police said on a Twitter account. Two officers were reported to have been injured.
Relatives of the inmates also waited outside the jailhouse to learn about the fate of their loved ones.
With a prison overcrowding of 30%, lack of guards, corruption, and violence, Ecuador has suffered a prison crisis for several years. Before this riot, the number of prisoners killed since January had risen to 120, it was reported.
In February, 79 inmates died in simultaneous riots in four prisons throughout three cities, including Guayaquil, which houses one-third of the country's 39,000 prisoners under the supervision of 1,500 guards, 3,000 fewer than necessary, according to experts. In 2020 there were 103 killings in Ecuador's prisons, according to the National Ombudsman's Office.
The state of exception in prisons decreed by Lasso empowers the government to suspend the civil rights of inmates and use public force to restore the rule of law.
The latest massacre was a clash for power between criminal gangs at the service of international drug trafficking with ties to the Mexican cartels of Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación, according to police reports.
Ecuador has seized some 116 tons of drugs between January and August 2021, mostly cocaine, compared to a record 128 tons in 2020.