Prison riot leaves 31 inmates dead

In a violent clash between rival gangs at the Guayas 1 prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the death toll has risen to 31 inmates, with 14 others wounded. The overcrowded and violence-plagued prison has been a battleground for prison gangs linked to drug traffickers. The recent surge in riots has resulted in over 420 deaths in Ecuadoran prisons since 2021, exposing the widespread corruption among guards and the ease with which inmates obtain weapons. On Tuesday, approximately 2,700 soldiers stormed the prison, successfully regaining control of the facility.

The armed forces, supported by the police, entered Guayas 1 prison on Tuesday to quell the riot that had erupted on Saturday. The initial death toll of six inmates had escalated to 31, with several victims beheaded or burnt alive. The government declared a 60-day state of emergency in all prisons across Ecuador. The authorities announced that they had regained “total control” of Guayas 1, which houses more than 5,600 inmates. During the operation, officers confiscated a significant cache of weapons, including rifles, pistols, and ammunition.

The public prosecutor’s office has initiated a murder investigation into the deaths and a terrorism probe due to the presence of explosives and a large quantity of weapons inside the prison. Outside Guayas 1, anxious family members gathered, seeking information about their loved ones. Many expressed concerns that the prisoners might be transferred to other facilities, which has previously led to deadly clashes between newcomers and established inmates aligned with rival groups.

President Guillermo Lasso vowed that the government would not succumb to criminal violence and shared images on social media of heavily-armed security forces overseeing restrained prisoners. The Prison Observatory, a rights group, claimed on social media that the inmates at Guayas 1 had been deprived of food and water for over three days. Ecuador’s prisons have long been criticized for their deplorable conditions, with a committee appointed by President Lasso describing them as “torture centers.” The country’s penitentiaries are severely overcrowded, with fewer than 3,000 guards responsible for over 31,000 inmates across 36 prisons.