At least 62 inmates died on Tuesday and several were injured in riots over gang rivalry in three prisons in Ecuador’s overcrowded prison system, authorities said.
As security forces fought to regain control, distraught family members desperately awaited news outside the prison in the port city of Guayaquil in western Ecuador, where officials declared 21 dead.
33 others died in Cuenca prison in the south and eight in Latacunga in the center of the South American country, according to Edmundo Moncayo, director of the government prison management body SNAI.
“We want the list of the dead to be given to us,” said Daniela Soria, 29, one of 40 women outside Guayaquil prison, many of them in tears.
“We know the problems are not over because everyone has a phone and my husband is not calling me,” she told AFP.
Previously, she had received a WhatsApp voicemail message from her husband, Ricardo, which she broadcast for AFP. “They are going to kill me, get me out of here!” we hear him exclaim, the last she heard from him.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, on Twitter, attributed the riots to “criminal organizations” engaged in “simultaneous acts of violence in several prisons”.
The authorities, he said, “are acting to regain control.”
The army was deployed to help police quell the uprising.
‘Like a market’
The prosecution said several detainees were injured in fighting between “criminal gangs”, including two in Guayaquil in serious condition.
Several police officers were also injured, Moncayo said, but no deaths were reported among security personnel.
Police Commander Patricio Carrillo called the situation “critical”, while Interior Minister Patricio Pazmino created a centralized command post to respond to what he called “concerted action by criminal organizations. to generate violence in penitentiary centers “.
Prison authorities have described heavy fighting between organized gangs that bear names such as Los Pipos, Los Lobos and Tigrones. They depend on drug trafficking and operate their criminal enterprises from prison.
Moncayo told reporters that on Monday guards seized two guns that were to be used to kill the leader of a group imprisoned in Guayaquil.
“Inside, it’s like a market. There is everything: drugs, weapons, even puppies. Everything is sold,” said Soria, the wife of prisoner Ricardo.
In order to reduce the number of prisoners amid the coronavirus outbreak, the government commuted the sentences of those convicted of minor offenses, reducing overcrowding from 42% to 30%.
This still leaves the Ecuadorian penitentiary system, with the capacity to accommodate 29,000 inmates in some 60 establishments, with a population of 38,000 inmates.
There are 1,500 guards to watch them.
Shortage of guards
SNAI said a staff shortage “hampers the immediate response” to prisoner revolts.
Last year, conflicts between inmates left 51 people dead, according to police figures.
A 90-day state of emergency in the country’s prisons was ordered by Moreno last year in an attempt to curb gang activity and reduce violence.
But in December alone, prison unrest left 11 dead and 7 injured.
The riots on Tuesday coincided with a march by hundreds of natives in Quito to demand a recount of the votes after a first round of presidential elections this month that saw their candidate left out.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from www.ndtv.com