A fight between Mexican cartels to control the cocaine trafficking routes in Ecuador resulted in 116 inmates killed in a high-security prison. Many of the victims were slaughtered with chainsaws or beheaded with machetes.
On Wednesday, as authorities tried to retake Litoral Prison in the city of Guayaquil, bodies were found in several areas of the building. A day earlier, images posted on social media showed Los Choneros and Los Lobos gang inmates fighting with machetes, guns and grenades, in the third episode of its kind recorded this year.
Colonel Mario Pazmiño, Ecuador’s former director of military intelligence, told the Guardian that the escalation of violence was driven by Mexican groups vying for control of drug routes through local gangs.
“This type of violence has increased as gangs fight for control of prisons,” he said. “Violence, dismemberment, beheading, are strategies for sow terror among inmates to gain territorial control – not just inside the prison, but outside,” he added.
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso announced a 60-day state of emergency in prisons, indicating he would deploy the army and direct 24 million dollars (about 21 million euros) in funds to pacify the prisons.
“Extreme violence has normalized in prisons”, said Itania Villarreal, former director of the state institution that works to rehabilitate inmates, stressing: “The most atrocious and inhumane murders have already occurred, with decapitations, burns, even with the use of chainsaws” .
“The penitentiary system has collapsed”, noted Villarreal, blaming authorities for failing to relocate gang members to maximum security prisons and for lack of staff in prisons.
More than 200 inmates have died in Ecuador this year, more than double the number last year. In February, 79 people were killed as rival gangs fought for control in three prisons. In July, 22 more prisoners lost their lives in the same prison.
Prisons across Latin America are overcrowded and controlled by criminal gangs who use them as headquarters to coordinate the drug trafficking and other criminal activities.