Brutal prison riots break out in Ecuador leaving 62 dead

Tear gas rises from parts of Turi jail where an inmate riot broke out in Cuenca, Ecuador. Credit: AP

Some 62 inmates have died in riots at prisons in three cities in Ecuador as a result of fights between rival gangs and an escape attempt, authorities said Tuesday.

Prisons Director Edmundo Moncayo said in a news conference that 800 police offices have been helping to regain control of the facilities.

Hundreds of officers from tactical units had been deployed since the clashes broke out late on Monday.

Moncayo said that two groups were trying to gain “criminal leadership within the detention centres” and that the clashes were precipitated by a search for weapons carried out Monday by police officers.

Photographs and videos on social media show alleged inmates decapitated and dismembered amid pools of blood.

Relatives of inmates crying outside a prison. Credit: AP

Deadly prison riots have happened relatively frequently in recent years in Ecuador, whose prisons were designed for some 27,000 inmates but house about 38,000.

President Lenín Moreno tweeted that he has ordered the Ministry of Defence “to exercise strict control of weapons, ammunition and explosives in the outer perimeters of prisons” as a result of this week’s riots.

Moncayo said 33 died at the prison in Cuenca in southern Ecuador, 21 in the Pacific coast city of Guayaquil and eight in the central city of Latacunga.

Moncayo said that close to 70% of the country’s prison population lives in the centres where the unrest occurred.

Minister of Government Patricio Pazmiño sent a tweet blaming “the concerted action of criminal organisations to generate violence in the country’s prisons,” but added: "We are managing actions to regain control."