A prolonged gun battle between rival gangs inside Ecuador’s largest prison has left at least 68 inmates dead.
It is the latest violence to hit the Litoral Penitentiary, which only a few weeks ago was the scene of the country’s worst prison massacre.
The fighting lasted for almost eight hours in the jail in the coastal city of Guayaquil, with authorities blaming prison gangs linked to international drug cartels.
Videos circulating on social media showed bodies, some burned, lying on the ground inside the prison.
Governor Pablo Arosemena of Guayas province, where Guayaquil is located, said inmates “tried to dynamite a wall to get into pavilion 2 to carry out a massacre. They also burned mattresses to try to to drown (their rivals) in smoke.
“We are fighting against drug trafficking. It is very hard.”
Police commander Tanya Varela said authorities using drones saw that inmates in three pavilions were armed with guns and explosives and were trying to enter pavilion 2, which was without its leader, who had been released earlier this week.
She said police officers entered to try to protect the pavilion and get the inmates in the other areas to return to their cells.
“These events are due to the dispute among criminal gangs over territory; there are now pavilions without leaders,” she said.
The latest fighting at the prison has also left 25 people injured. Officials seized bombs and guns.
The prison violence comes amid a national state of emergency decreed by Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, in October that empowers security forces to fight drug trafficking and other crimes.
In late September, another battle among gang members in Litoral prison killed at least 118 people in what authorities described as the South American country’s worst ever prison massacre.
Officials said at least five of the dead were beheaded.
In February, 79 inmates were killed in simultaneous riots in various prisons. So far this year, more than 300 prisoners have died in clashes in jails across the country.
Outside the Litoral prison on Saturday, relatives of inmates gathered for news of their loved ones.
Francisca Chancay (55), whose brother has been in the prison for eight months, said: “Enough of this. When will they stop the killing? This is a prison not a slaughterhouse, they are human beings.”
Some were calling for Ecuador’s security forces to take control of the prisons.
Ecuador has 40,000 inmates in its prison system, of which about 8,500 are in Litoral. According to prison services’ data, the Litoral prison was designed to hold only 5,000 people. – PA