The number of prisoners killed in riots in three separate prisons in Ecuador this week rose to 79, authorities said on Wednesday after regaining control of the facilities.
Hundreds of police and military personnel have been deployed after coordinated fighting between rival gangs erupted in the maximum security wings of prisons on Monday evening.
Authorities said the gangs began a battle for leadership within the prison system in December when a leader of Los Choneros, considered the most powerful gang, was killed in a shopping mall several months after being released. .
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said Tuesday was a “tragic day for the country” – as dozens of prisoners were the first reported death – and blamed the overcrowding within the prison system, as well as the lack of staff and resources, for the violence.
In earlier messages, he has expressed his condolences to the families of those killed and vowed to hold those responsible accountable.
“What happened yesterday was no coincidence,” Moreno said in a video posted to Twitter. “It was organized from outside the prison, orchestrated by those who are in conflict over leadership and drug trafficking in our national territory.”
Tuesday February 23 was a tragic day for the country. In four prisons, simultaneously and in an orchestration, a wave of violence unleashed never before recorded in Ecuador. This is not a coincidence, it is a consequence. #SinTreguaContraLaViolencia pic.twitter.com/LroX5Jfm3e
– Lenin Moreno (@ Lenin) February 24, 2021
The national agency responsible for prisons (SNAI) said that 37 detainees were killed in the city of Guayaquil on the Pacific coast. Thirty-four other people were killed in Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city, and eight were killed in the central town of Latacunga.
The detention centers where the riots took place represent 70% of the country’s prison population.
Television footage on Tuesday showed prisoners jumping from high walls and others forcing prison doors, but police and military arrested them.
SNAI said all those killed in the riots were prisoners.
“Thanks to the actions carried out between this institution and the national police, the situation … is under control,” the agency said in a statement.
Police said inmates at two prisons in Guayaquil tried to continue fighting on Wednesday, but at least 400 officers tightened security there.
Moreno declared a state of emergency in the Ecuadorian prison system in 2019 after at least 24 were killed in a wave of incidents.
According to the office of the Ecuadorian human rights ombudsperson, 103 detainees were killed in prisons in 2020.
United Nations officials called for “a swift and impartial investigation” into this week’s deadly riots, as well as “corresponding punishment for those responsible.”
The maximum security areas of prisons mainly house inmates linked to murder, drug trafficking, extortion and other major crimes.
In order to reduce the number of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has commuted the sentences of those convicted of minor offenses in order to reduce overcrowding.
But Ecuador’s prison system, with facilities designed for some 27,000 inmates, still housed around 38,000 despite the downsizing.
Relatives of the detainees continued to gather outside the prisons on Wednesday in the hope of obtaining information on their relatives.
Digna Pacho, 63, said she had traveled 14 hours by bus to collect the remains of her son Jacson, whom she called “Nato”.
Pacho said she wanted to bury her son, who was serving a 35-year prison sentence, in his hometown of Esmeraldas in the north of the country.
“I just want them to give me Jacson’s body and I’ll go back to Esmeraldas.”