Ferocious clashes have left 68 inmates dead in an Ecuador prison, police said Saturday, in the latest unrest at a Guayaquil jail that was the scene of a September riot which killed 119 prisoners.
“According to preliminary information, some 68 prisoners were killed and another 25 were wounded,” the Ecuador Prosecutor’s Office wrote on Twitter.
The riot began around 7:00 pm Friday (0000 GMT) when prisoners tried to enter a section of the jail, firing gunshots and using explosives, and police moved in to contain the unrest.
“These events are the result of a territorial dispute between criminal gangs inside the penitentiary,” Police commander General Tannya Varela said.
Varela had earlier told reporters that 58 people were killed.
An intervention by police to try and reestablish order “saved lives,” added Pablo Arosemena, governor of the province of Guayas, whose capital city is Guayaquil.
Arosemena condemned “the level of savagery, the level of inhumanity” on the part of the inmates who took part in the attack.
Police officers in riot gear were seen climbing up the blood-stained prison walls, while a body of an inmate in an orange prison jumpsuit lay on the roof of the jail encircled by barbed wire.
Meanwhile, scores of people gathered outside the prison gates, weeping and trying to learn the fate of their relatives inside.
Images posted on social networks, whose authenticity has not been confirmed by the authorities, showed a pile of listless bodies in a night-time prison courtyard being consumed by flames while inmates standing nearby beat the bodies with sticks.
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 narcotics gangs have been waging a bloody feud in the Guayas 1 Prison, a facility that was designed for 5,300 inmates, but houses 8,500 — 60 percent more than capacity.
But even after a crackdown in the wake of the September 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 the country’s president, Guillermo Lasso, declared a 60-day state of emergency in a bid to tame Ecuador’s surging drug-related unrest.
He also named a new defense minister in part to address the massive prisons crisis.
Violence has spiked dramatically in recent months in Ecuador, whose 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.