Prison Riot in Ecuador Leaves More Than 100 Dead, With Some Beheaded in Melee

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More than 100 inmates were killed and dozens more injured in a riot in Ecuador’s coastal city of Guayaquil, officials said, in the latest outbreak in Latin America of violence between gangs fighting for control of a prison.

The death toll from one of Ecuador’s most violent prison uprisings rose sharply on Wednesday as officials regained control of the Litoral Penitentiary, one of the city’s main prisons. Clashes between the rival Los Lobos and Los Choneros gangs erupted Tuesday as inmates attacked each other with knives, guns and explosives. Some of the inmates were beheaded, officials said.

“It is really a tragedy, something incredible that is happening, that fights between organized criminal groups for internal power have reached these levels,” Bolívar Garzón, who was appointed director of the country’s prison bureau on Tuesday, told local media.

Outside the prison in Guayaquil following the riot.



Photo:

fernando mendez/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

President

Guillermo Lasso,

back from a high-profile trip to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly and promote Ecuador to foreign investors, pledged to increase control across the prison system. He said at least 116 inmates were killed at the Litoral Penitentiary and nearly 80 injured.

“It’s unfortunate that prisons have become terrain for disputes for power between gangs,“ Mr. Lasso, who took office earlier this year, said in a news conference. ”The Ecuadorean state is going to act.”

Itania Villareal, a lawyer and former director of a state institution that works to rehabilitate inmates, said Ecuador’s penitentiary system is being overrun by drug-trafficking gangs amid a shortage of hundreds of prison workers for the country’s roughly 40,000 inmates.

“This is an institutional problem, the lack of personnel and security,” she said. “Drug trafficking is taking over control of the country’s prisons.”

Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded prisons are hotbeds for deadly riots and bloody fights between gangs. Gangs from Mexico to Colombia to Brazil often battle for control inside prisons, which law-enforcement officials say are used as a headquarters from which they orchestrate drug trafficking and other criminal activities on the outside.

In Ecuador, more than 70 prisoners were killed in February as rival gangs fought for control of three prisons. Authorities have struggled to maintain control as spending cuts by the country’s cash-strapped government has reduced resources for the prison system.

Write to Ryan Dube at ryan.dube@dowjones.com

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