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Security forces arrive to Litoral Penitentiary in Ecuador
Ecuador deployed military soldiers to assist in guarding the prisonsImage: Dolores Ochoa/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ecuador declares emergency after prison riots

July 23, 2021

At least 22 prisoners were killed and several police officers were injured after clashes between rival gangs erupted at two of Ecuador's largest prisons.


Ecuador on Thursday declared a state of emergency in its prisons after riots left 22 dead and 57 wounded.

The Latin American country has long grappled with prison overcrowding and violence between rival gangs.

What we know about the riots

Authorities said violence erupted on Wednesday afternoon at the country's two largest prisons — Litoral Penitentiary in the port city of Guayaquil and the Latacunga prison in the central Cotopaxi region.

Women wait outside Litoral Penitentiary
People waited outside prisons for news about incarcerated family membersImage: Dolores Ochoa/AP Photo/picture alliance

Police contained the rioting and regained control of the two sites after nine officers and 59 inmates were injured, according to officials.

In Cotopaxi, "high-caliber firearms" and explosives were used during the riots, Governor Oswaldo Coronel said.

Some 78 prisoners were recaptured following an escape attempt at Latacunga, police said.

Alexandra Vela, a government minister, said a police officer was sexually assaulted amid the chaos. 

Gustavo Larrea, a former interior minister, said clashes were between crime groups linked to drug trafficking. Larrea said the gangs had "relative control" in the prisons and sought to control illegal operations on the outside.

President vows to 'impose rule of law'

Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso issued a decree "to mobilize all necessary human and economic resources to re-establish order" in the country's prisons.

The military will be in charge of controlling the prison from the outside and police will handle the inside, Lasso said.

"I want to tell the mafias that try to intimidate this country that they are wrong," Lasso said. "They are wrong if they think our hand is going to shake. We are going to use all our legal powers to impose the rule of law and guarantee peace and human rights in prisons in Ecuador."

Gang violence plagues Ecuador's prisons

In February, a wave of riots broke out in the same two prisons, leaving dozens dead, including 79 inmates in a single day.

Ecuador's former president, Lenin Moreno, had ordered a state of emergency in jails several times to bring "mafia" groups under control.

According to Ecuador's human rights ombudsman, there were 103 killings in the country's prisons in 2020. The country struggles with overcrowding in its detention facilities and a lack of prison guards. About 38,000 detainees are currently serving terms in 60 facilities designed for 29,000 prisoners.

fb/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters) 

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