QUITO – At least 75 people died on Tuesday in simultaneous riots at three prisons in Ecuador, which authorities attributed to criminal gangs fighting for control of the institutions.
At Turi prison in the city of Cuenca, at least 33 prisoners died, while another 34 died in Guayaquil prison and another eight in Cotopaxi prison, the National Service of Attention to People Deprived of Liberty (SNAI) reported.
Dozens of people have been injured but there is no confirmed figure because through until dusk ambulances continued to enter the prisons to remove the dead and wounded, EFE observed at the Guayaquil prison.
The dispute between at least two criminal gangs for control of the prisons is possibly due to a vacuum generated from the December death of a former inmate who was believed to be leading a notorious criminal organization known as Los Choneros, head of prisons Edmundo Moncayo said at a press conference in Quito.
Jose Luis Zambrano, alias “Rasquiña,” was assassinated in the coastal city of Manta shortly after his release from jail, and it is assumed his death would have awakened the ambition of other criminal gangs within the prisons.
“We expected an immediate reaction, but the reaction has been delayed and is what has occurred today between two groups trying to find criminal leadership,” said Moncayo.
The riots took place simultaneously across the three prisons, which, according to the official, make up 70 percent of the incarcerated population of the entire country.
In his preliminary report, Moncayo also said that the riots occurred after a search carried out by prison personnel, who found firearms which presumably were intended to attack leaders of one of the gangs in the dispute.
The situation in the three prisons has been brought under control and the Ecuadorian Prosecutor’s Office has begun investigations into the case.
Outside the Guayaquil prison, EFE found dramatic scenes of fathers, mothers and siblings who had arrived to verify the status of their imprisoned relatives.
“Where is my son, where is my son?” asked a woman screaming while she sobbed and hugged a relative.
Dozens turned up at the gates of the prison under the watchful eye of military forces deployed to contain the situation, and while ambulances entered and left.
Adding to the drama were numerous videos broadcast on social networks, and even official information, about the brutality of the clashes between the gangs, such as beheadings reported by a local television channel.
There were, however, no fatalities among police officers or prison service guards, although there are an undetermined number of wounded, Moncayo confirmed.
In the morning, during the program “In Front of the President,” President Lenin Moreno indicated that he had authorized the “progressive use of force to ensure the safety of citizens who are in a state of seclusion.”
Riots in Ecuador’s prisons are not a new phenomenon, and cases do occur from time to time.