At least 68 inmates died in ghastly clashes between rival gangs at a prison in Ecuador, officials said Saturday, the latest bloodbath in the same jail that was the scene of a September riot which left 119 prisoners dead.
Inmates at the prison in Guayaquil attacked members of an opposing clan with guns, explosives and blades, in what Pablo Arosemena, governor of the province of Guayas where the prison is located, said was a deplorable “level of savagery.”
The riot began around 7:00 pm Friday (0000 GMT) when prisoners tried to enter Block 2 of the jail where their rivals were held, firing gunshots, detonating explosives and swinging machetes, and prompting police to move in.
“These events are the result of a territorial dispute between criminal gangs inside the penitentiary,” police commander General Tannya Varela said.
Some 68 prisoners were killed and another 25 were wounded in the fighting, according a statement which the Ecuador Prosecutor's Office posted on Twitter.
An intervention by police to try and restore order “saved lives,” said Arosemena.
On Saturday, police officers in riot gear were seen climbing up the blood-stained prison walls, while the body of an inmate in an orange prison jumpsuit lay on the roof of the jail encircled by barbed wire.
Images posted on social networks, whose authenticity has not been confirmed by the authorities, showed a pile of bodies in a night-time prison courtyard being consumed by flames while inmates standing nearby beat the bodies with sticks.
In another video, a prisoner from the block that was being attacked says, “We are locked in our pavilion. They want to kill us all.”
“Please share this video. Please help us!” the inmate implores, as repeated bangs are heard the background.
Dozens of people gathered outside the prison gates Saturday morning, weeping and trying to learn the fate of their relatives inside, as police and soldiers stood guard nearby.
“They are human beings, help them”, read a banner held by one of the families, held back by a deployment of police and soldiers supported by a tank.
Berta Yago, 51, said her nephew was attacked in the leg with a machete. Sobbing, she said, “I would like someone to help me get him out before we don't get him dead.”
In a tweet, President Guillermo Lasso offered “my sincere condolences to the families who have lost loved ones”.
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.
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 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.