Speed Reads

Drug War

Brutal gang war inside Ecuador prison leaves at least 116 inmates dead, 5 of them beheaded

A battle between rival gangs at the Litoral penitentiary in Guayaquil, Ecuador, broke out Tuesday morning, and by the time police and soldiers wrested back control of the prison, at least 116 people were dead and another 80 injured, Ecuador officials said Wednesday. At least five of the inmates were decapitated. Violence in prisons has been escalating in recent years, but this was the worst penitentiary massacre in the country's history. The previous record is from February, when 79 inmates died at three prisons. 

President Guillermo Lasso announced Wednesday afternoon that he has declared at "state of exception" in Ecuador's prison systems and said he will personally preside over the security committee in Guayaquil "to coordinate the necessary actions to control the emergency, guaranteeing the human rights of all those involved." It is "regrettable that the prisons are being turned into territories for power disputes by criminal gangs," he said, and he will act with "absolute firmness" to regain control of Ecuador's prisons. 

The current riot was between the Los Lobos and Los Choneros prison gangs, which are connected to Mexican cartels and other international drug traffickers, officials said. Tuesday's bloodshed involved bombs, knives, and firearms. 

"We're in the process of evacuating the dead, but we're surpassing 100," Bolívar Garzón, who was sworn in as director of prisons right as the riot began on Tuesday, told Ecuadoran TV on Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday night, he told The Washington Post that "it's an unfortunate fact that this is happening in our society, in our country," and this has been a "particularly difficult year." Including Tuesday's fatalities, at least 221 inmates have been killed inside the country's prisons this year, more than double 2020's death toll.