Ecuador prison raided as riot death toll climbs to 18

Guayaquil (Ecuador) (AFP) – Some 2,700 soldiers stormed a prison in Ecuador Tuesday to retake control as the death toll from a riot that started three days earlier rose to 18 inmates, officials said.

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According to the prosecutor’s office, “the deaths of 18 prisoners is confirmed,” while 11 people were injured in the ongoing confrontation between rival gangs at the overcrowded, violence-riddled Guayas 1 prison in the port city of Guayaquil.

The wounded included a member of the security forces.

The armed forces, meanwhile, said troops and police entered Guayas 1 on Tuesday morning to restore order and search for arms, ammunition, explosives and other illegal items used in running battles.

The initial death toll reported Sunday was of six inmates.

Tuesday’s raid came as the government declared a state of emergency, in force in all prisons, for 60 days following the latest in a string of bloody riots that have claimed at least 420 lives in Ecuadoran prisons since 2021 — many of the victims beheaded or burnt alive.

The government, via its communications secretariat Segcom, said “total control” had been regained at Guayas 1, which houses over 5,600 inmates.

President Guillermo Lasso in a message on social media insisted the state “will never yield” to criminal violence.

He included photos in his post of heavily-armed members of the security forces standing guard over dozens of prisoners with naked torsos, hands tied, in a prison courtyard.

The death toll from the Guayas 1 riot has risen to 18
The death toll from the Guayas 1 riot has risen to 18 © Marcos PIN / AFP

“The mission is to restore order in this detention center in order to protect the lives, health and safety of inmates,” armed forces commander General Nelson Proano told reporters outside the prison Tuesday.

He said explosions heard coming from inside were the result of “detonations made by the elite groups of the armed forces.”

Guards taken hostage

On Monday, the authorities had said dozens of prison guards were being held hostage at facilities in five provinces, and inmates at 13 penitentiaries were on hunger strike as the unrest showed no signs of abating.

There has been no update on the status of the guards, who the SNAI prison authority said Monday were “in good shape.”

Regular riots pit gangs with links to drug traffickers against one another in a country that has recently emerged as a key player in the South American cocaine trade.

2,700 police and soldiers raided the prison
2,700 police and soldiers raided the prison © Marcos PIN / AFP

Guayaquil, on Ecuador’s southern Pacific coast, is the country’s largest city, biggest port and economic hub but in recent years has become the increasingly bloody center of a gang turf war.

The location of the city, home to three million of Ecuador’s 18 million people, makes it a strategic launch point for shipments of drugs to the United States and Europe.

Tucked between Colombia and Peru, the world’s main cocaine producers, once peaceful Ecuador has seized 455 tons of drugs since May 2021.

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