Prison inmates from rival gangs in Ecuador fought each other with guns, explosives and blades in a bloodbath that left at least 68 dead in the same prison where a riot in September claimed 119 lives, officials said Saturday.
Inmates at the prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city, fought with “savagery,” said Pablo Arosemena, governor of the province of Guayas where the prison is located. He said there was an intense gun battle near the gates of the prison.
The riot began around 7pm Friday (0001 GMT) when prisoners tried to enter Block 2 of the jail where their rivals were held, firing gunshots, detonating explosives and swinging machetes, and prompting police to move in.
“These events are the result of a territorial dispute between criminal gangs inside the penitentiary,” police commander General Tannya Varela said.
Some 68 prisoners were killed and another 25 were wounded in the fighting, according a statement which the Ecuador Prosecutor’s Office posted on Twitter.
An intervention by police to try to restore order “saved lives,” Arosemena said.
Authorities said it took police hours to intervene because the violence inside was so intense that they feared for the officers’ lives.
One of the gangs inside the prison, the Tiguerones, was left without their leader because he was released after serving part of his sentence for stealing auto parts. Other groups, sensing weakness in the Tiguerones with that man gone, went on the attack to try to crush that gang, Arosemena said.
He said their goal was “to go in and carry out a total massacre.”
On Saturday, police officers in riot gear were seen climbing up the blood-stained prison walls, while the body of an inmate in an orange prison jumpsuit lay on the roof of the jail encircled by barbed wire.
Images posted on social networks, whose authenticity has not been confirmed by the authorities, showed a pile of bodies in a night-time prison courtyard being consumed by flames while inmates standing nearby beat the bodies with sticks.
In another video, a prisoner from the block that was being attacked says, “We are locked in our pavilion. They want to kill us all.”
“Please share this video. Please help us!” the inmate implores, as repeated bangs are heard the background.
Dozens of people gathered outside the prison gates Saturday morning, fainting or weeping as they tried to learn the fate of their loved ones inside.
“They are human beings, help them”, read a banner held by one of the families, held back by a deployment of police and soldiers supported by a tank.
A group of women with one cell phone shouted prisoners’ names to an inmate who was inside the prison and on the line, hoping to know if those men were still alive.
“Here there are relatives from block two and they need to know about the boys,” the woman holding the phone said.
A crackly voice was heard from the phone but the signal was spotty and then there was just silence.
At a coroner’s office in the city, Felix Gonzalez showed up holding his imprisoned son’s ID card and asked if his body was there. “It is not fair for him to die for stealing a cell phone,” Gonzalez told AFP.
More than 300 prisoners have been killed this year in Ecuador’s criminal detention system, where thousands of inmates tied to drug gangs square off in violent clashes that often turn into riots.
September’s unrest was one of the worst prison massacres in Latin American history, and the latest deadly violence in Guayaquil only reaffirmed the broken state of Ecuador’s jails.
Rival drug gangs have been waging a bloody feud in the Guayas 1 prison in Guayaquil, a facility that was designed for 5,300 inmates, but houses 8,500.
But even after a crackdown in the wake of the Sept 28 tragedy that killed 119, the unrest has persisted, with at least 15 more inmates dying prior to Friday’s deadly burst of violence.
Two weeks after the September disaster, President Guillermo Lasso declared a 60-day state of emergency in a bid to tame Ecuador’s surging drug-related unrest.
Violence has spiked dramatically in recent months in Ecuador, where the economy is ailing.
Between January and October this year, the country registered almost 1,900 homicides, compared to about 1,400 in all of 2020, according to the government.