Ecuador: prison riots leave 79 dead, including 34 in Cuenca. Gang wars result in beheadings, dismemberments

“This is a human slaughterhouse,” is how a national police captain described the scene as he entered a high security area of Cuenca’s Turi prison following tuesday’s riot. “It is the most terrible thing I have ever witnessed as a police officer.”

According to Ecuador’s interior ministry, the number of inmates killed in gang warfare in Cuenca, Guayaquil and Latacunga prisons was at least 79. Earlier Tuesday, the ministry said that 62 had died but said later that it had discovered additional bodies and body parts. The death count early, by prison, Wednesday is 34 in Cuenca, 37 in two Guayaquil facilities and 8 in Latacunga. Authorities said the count will be revised as information comes in. The number of injured numbered more than 100, the ministry said.

As of early Wednesday morning, national Prisons Director Edmundo Moncayo reported that “most but not all” areas of the prisons were secure, patrolled by military personnel and police. “We still have work to do in some parts of the blocks but we hope to have full occupation of all facilities sometime Wednesday.”

In Cuenca and Guayaquil, Moncayo said that many of the dead prisoners had been beheaded, dismembers or disemboweled. “It is a terrible situtation and one reason we have difficulty determining the total number of deaths is that we continue to find heads and severed limbs during our patrols. The count will probably change again as we reassemble bodies during the course of our investigation.”

Moncayo said that no prison employees died in the riots. “This was strictly a battle between rival criminal gangs attempting to assert leadership within the prisons,” he said. “Despite our efforts to remove weapons from inmates, today we have recovered a large number of knives and at least five handguns used in the riot.” He added that police also found two chainsaws that had been used in the killings.

The interior ministry reports that 800 police and 600 army troops were used to put down the riot and that all personnel would remain on the job until full security has been restored. Hundreds of family members of prisoners in Cuenca and Guayaquil crowded prison gates Tuesday afternoon, demanding to know the names of the dead and injured. Tuesday night, police had to call in reinforcement to control the growing crowds.

Deadly prison riots have occurred frequently in recent years in Ecuador, whose prisons were designed for some 27,000 inmates but house about 38,000. Moncayo said that close to 70% of the country’s prison population is housed in the three facilities where the riots occurred.

Tuesday night, President Lenín Moreno ordered the Ministry of Defense “to exercise strict control of weapons, ammunition and explosives in the outer perimeters of prisons” as a result of the riots. “Obviously, poor weapons control played a big factor in today’s uprising and we must increase efforts for control.”

Interior Minister Patricio Pazmiño claimed the riots were the results of a “concerted action of criminal organizations to generate violence for the purpose of revenge and control.” He said the gangs involved were Los Pipos, Los Lobos, Los Chone Killers and Los Tiguerones.

He added: “During these events, no prisoners escaped and the public was never in danger. We will maintain and strengthen our perimieter control at the prisons involved in the disturbance.”

On Wednesday morning an interior ministry bulletin warned social media users not to share videos recorded during prison riots showing torture, beheadings and castrations of victims. According to a prison guard in Cuenca, dozens of the videos are in circulation.