Quito, May 9 (EFE).- At least 43 people died early Monday in a new eruption of violence inside an Ecuadorian prison, bringing to more than 400 the number of inmates who have perished in that Andean nation’s penitentiary system over the past two years, authorities said.
The Attorney General’s Office provided the death toll at the Bellavista prison in the northern city of Santo Domingo, 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Quito, making that announcement on Twitter just minutes after Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo had put the number of fatalities at 41.
Most, if not all, of those killed appeared at first inspection to have succumbed to knife wounds rather than gunfire, Carrillo told reporters.
Carrillo, who said 13 people were wounded in the violence (some of them seriously), attributed the mayhem that began at around 1.30 am to clashes between the rival prison gangs Los Lobos and R7.
Due to the seriousness of some of the injuries, the minister said it is possible the death toll will rise further over the next few hours.
Images that appeared shortly after news about the clashes surfaced showed piles of semi-naked corpses, some of which had been mutilated and decapitated.
In bringing the situation under control, authorities recaptured 112 inmates who were found outside the prison’s walls, either because they had tried to escape or merely fled to safety. More than 100 other prisoners, however, remain unaccounted for and are regarded as fugitives.
Carrillo said those same two groups were also responsible for clashes last month in the Turi prison near the southern Andean city of Cuenca that left 20 inmates dead and at least 10 wounded, most of them from gunshot wounds.
The minister said the heads of the rival gangs should be subjected to stricter disciplinary regimens.
He added that searches conducted after the incidents turned up firearms that had been stashed away.
Some 400 inmates have died over the past two years in Ecuador in battles for the control of prisons pitting rival gangs with drug-trafficking ties, according to authorities. Forty-six were killed in 2020, while the number of deaths skyrocketed to 316 last year.
The criminal gangs blamed for these prison massacres also are allegedly responsible for growing violence on Ecuador’s coast over control of networks for the trafficking of cocaine and other drugs to the United States and Europe.
Following the appearance of several decapitated bodies and growing public awareness about the activities of drug-gang assassins, President Guillermo Lasso’s administration declared a 60-day state of emergency a week and a half ago in the coastal provinces of Guayas, Manabi and Esmeraldas.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently issued a report on the prison crisis in Ecuador.
In that document, it urged that nation’s government to reassert control over the prisons, provide inmates with dignified conditions and craft crime-prevention policies that de-emphasize incarceration.
At the end of 2021, more than 36,000 inmates (nearly 40 percent of them without a prison sentence) were being housed at 36 prisons and social rehabilitation centers in Ecuador with a total capacity to hold 30,000 people.
The situation is particularly dire at the Litoral Penitentiary in the city of Guayaquil, the country’s largest with 7,231 inmates and the scene of the deadliest episodes last year.
Lasso has unveiled a multi-pronged plan for addressing the prison crisis that includes hiring 1,400 new prison guards, ordering the early release of around 5,000 individuals convicted of minor crimes and launching a new public policy aimed at ensuring the basic human rights of the prison population. EFE