“So far, 200 prisoners have been recaptured” by the security forces, thanks to police and army patrols and checkpoints, the chief of police operations, General Geovany Ponce.
According to the latest official report, at least 44 prisoners died in clashes between two rival gangs on Monday in Bellavista prison, in the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, about 80 km west of Quito.
More than 200 prisoners escaped as a result of this violence, according to statements by the police, who did not specify their exact number. She had reported Monday evening of 112 “recaptured” detainees and 108 others still in the wild.
On Tuesday, desperate and in tears, dozens of parents and relatives of prisoners were still waiting outside Bellavista prison awaiting news of their loved ones, AFP noted.
Soldiers and soldiers were deployed in and around the establishment. AFP also observed men in uniform rounding up around 80 detainees believed to have been recaptured in recent hours.
“They don’t give us any information. They say that young men have escaped to save their lives, that others are going to be transferred,” said Leisi Zambrano, without news from her brother.
– Desperate calls –
“There are many mothers who, to this day, have not heard from their loved ones, who do not even know if they are alive,” added the 48-year-old housewife.
As soon as she heard about the clashes, Ms. Zambrano explains that she rushed to the prison in the early hours of the morning, with other family members. “We heard the prisoners calling for help, that we don’t let them die”, she says, commenting: “It’s a butcher’s shop inside”.
Horrifying videos are circulating on social media showing a pile of bloody, naked and mutilated bodies on the hemoglobin-covered floor of a common room. Or even corpses strewing the corridors of the prison, next to mattresses that the attackers probably tried to set on fire.
According to Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo, members of the “Los Lobos” (“The Wolves”) gang “attacked” members of the rival “R7” faction with knives.
In an attempt to stem the violence, six leaders of these gangs have since been transferred by helicopter from Bellavista to two high-security prisons elsewhere in the country.
With a capacity of 1,200 places, the Bellavista prison accommodates 1,700 prisoners, and is a reflection of the prison overcrowding in all the prisons of Ecuador.
“These disturbing incidents once again underline the urgent need for a comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system,” commented the spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the violence and called for a “rapid, serious and impartial” investigation.
Clashes, often extremely violent, are recurrent in Ecuadorian prisons, where nearly 400 detainees have died since February 2021, including these latest clashes.
According to the government, rival gangs of drug traffickers, infiltrated or controlled by Mexican cartels, are waging an all-out war for control of overcrowded prisons, a war that authorities have so far been powerless to stem.