By GONZALO SOLANO
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) – A long-running shootout between rival gangs inside Ecuador’s largest prison killed at least 68 prisoners and injured 25 on Saturday, while authorities said it took most of the day to regain control of the Litoral Penitentiary, which recently the country’s worst prison massacre.
The killing erupted before dawn in the prison in the coastal city of Guayaquil in what officials said was the latest outbreak of fighting among prison gangs linked to international drug cartels. Videos circulating on social media showed corpses, some burned, lying on the ground inside the jail.
The shooting lasted about eight hours, officials said, and then new clashes were reported in part of the jail in the afternoon.
Presidential spokesman Carlos Jijón finally announced after dark that “the situation is under control throughout the prison.” He said about 900 police officers had taken control of the situation.
In the initial fighting, inmates “tried to dynamite a wall to enter Pavilion 2 to carry out a massacre. They also burned mattresses to try to drown (their rivals) in smoke,” said Guayas province governor Pablo Arosemena. .
“We are fighting drug trafficking,” Arosemena said. “It is very hard.”
The bloodshed came less than two months after gang fights killed 119 people in the jail, which houses more than 8,000 prisoners.
Police Chief General Tanya Varela said early in the day that drones flying over the chaos revealed that prisoners in three pavilions were armed with weapons and explosives. Authorities have said weapons and ammunition are smuggled into prisoners through vehicles supplying supplies and sometimes with drones.
Prison violence comes amid a national state of emergency declared by President Guillermo Lasso in October, which empowers security forces to combat drug trafficking and other crimes.
On Saturday, Lasso tweeted that “the first right we should guarantee should be the right to life and liberty, which is not possible if the security forces can not act to protect.” He referred to the recent refusal of the Constitutional Court to allow the military to go to jail despite the state of emergency. Soldiers are currently outside Litoral.
Ecuador’s prisons are experiencing a wave of brutal violence.
The bloody fighting inside Litoral Prison, which killed 119 prisoners in late September, was described by authorities as the worst prison massacre ever in the South American country. Officials said at least five of the dead were beheaded. In February last year, 79 prisoners were killed in simultaneous riots in various prisons. So far this year, more than 300 prisoners have died in clashes in prisons across Ecuador.
Outside the prison, relatives of inmates gathered for news of their loved ones.
“Enough of this. When are they stopping the killing? This is a prison not a slaughterhouse, they are human beings,” said Francisca Chancay, whose brother has been in prison for eight months.
Some called on the Ecuadorian military to take control of the prisons.
“What is Lasso waiting for? That there are more deaths?” Said Maritza Vera, whose son has been detained. “Be merciful, where are the human rights. We thought this would change, but it’s worse.”
Ecuador has about 40,000 inmates in its prison system, which is well above the capacity of 30,000. Of these, 15,000 have not been convicted.
Arosemena said the authorities in Ecuador will deal with the overcrowding of the prisons by granting pardons, moving prisoners and transferring some foreign prisoners back to their home countries.
“There will be more than 1,000 pardons, but this is part of a process,” he said.
The Guayas governor also said Ecuador will receive international assistance from countries such as Colombia, the United States, Israel and Spain to deal with the crisis in its prisons. The help will be in resources and logistics.
“For example, it costs $ 4 million to install a cargo scanner in the Guayaquil prison to avoid the intrusion of weapons,” Arosemena said.
Vera said the situation makes the families of the inmates desperate.
“I feel sad and sad because there is too much death,” Vera said.
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