“Forty-three detainees have so far died.“, announced the office of the Attorney General on its Twitter account, while the Minister of the Interior, Patricio Carrillo, announced 41 deaths during a press conference.
“Thirteen people have been hospitalized, several of whom are seriously injured, it is possible that the number (of deaths) will increase“, commented Mr. Carrillo.
The violence took place in Bellavista prison, in the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, about 80 km west of Quito.
On the spot, wounded with facial wounds were taken care of by ambulances and relatives of detainees crowded around the penitentiary center to try to obtain information, AFP noted.
According to the Ecuadorian police chief, “the attackers acted with great cruelty“, while the violence was followed by a mass escape.
While authorities have given no figures on the total number of escapees, 112 of them may have been “recaptured“, but 108 were still “missing“Monday afternoon, according to the chief of police, General Fausto Salinas.”250 police, 200 soldiers and additional reinforcements are on the way“, he detailed.
With a capacity of 1,200 places, the Bellavista prison currently accommodates 1,700 prisoners.
“This is the unfortunate result of gang violence“, lamented for his part on Twitter President Guillermo Lasso, on tour in Israel. He addressed his “sincere condolences to the families“Deceased people.
– “Wolves” versus “R7“-
Clashes between members of two rival gangs, the “Wolves” and the “R7“, broke out around 3:00 a.m., said the minister, causing the outbreak of “security protocols“to contain the”disorder“in the jail.”The majority of victims, if not almost 100%, were killed with knives, not firearms“, and “their mutilated corpses left behind“.
“They were executed in the common rooms, in the cells“, then “there was a mass escape attempt“with the use of firearms, admitted Mr. Carrillo.
“Those who are allowed to move between the different blocks within the prison are likely the ones behind this massacre“, he estimated, evoking a “scenario identical to that of April 28 in the prison of El Turi, where members of the + Wolves + had already faced + R7 +“. Some 20 prisoners had died there, most of them mutilated with knives.
Clashes, often extremely violent, are recurrent in Ecuadorian prisons, where nearly 350 inmates have died since February 2021.
According to the government, rival gangs of drug traffickers, infiltrated or controlled by Mexican cartels, are waging an all-out war for control of overcrowded prisons, a war that authorities have so far been powerless to stem.
But Irene Salazar, a relative of an inmate, said the government was staying “arms crossed” in the face of prison violence. “Why is the government doing nothing? He negotiates… negotiates what? More money for him! And the starving poor“, told AFP the young woman of 29 years.
For Daniel Ponton, Dean of the School of Security and Defense of the Institute for Advanced National Studies (IAEN), the “relocation policy“of the most dangerous detainees, exfiltrated from large prisons, would be at the origin of this outbreak of violence in penitentiary establishments until then”relatively quiet“, which could result in a “worrying generalization of the problem“.
The escape of many prisoners also indicates that it is “from a low security prison“, and so “extremely vulnerable“.
In 2021, Ecuador seized a record 210 tons of drugs, mostly cocaine. For 2022, seizures to date have reached around 70 tonnes.
Bordered by Colombia and Peru, the world’s largest cocaine producers, Ecuador serves as a port of departure for illicit shipments, mainly to the United States and Europe.