QUITO/GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador – The death toll from Ecuador’s worst-ever prison riot rose to 118, authorities said, while police reinforcements maintained a presence on Friday at the Penitenciaria del Litoral detention center in the southern city of Guayaquil.
The clashes on Tuesday, part of a rivalry between gangs fighting to control the facility, were the latest in a wave of prison violence in the South American country, after riots left 79 dead in February and 22 in July of this year.
Officials say gangs have alliances with transnational criminal groups and are battling over drug trafficking routes.
Police said late on Thursday that the number of dead from this week’s riot rose to 118, up from 116. Some 79 injured inmates were being treated in hospitals.
Authorities sent hundreds of police into the prison on Thursday to maintain order. Police commander Tannya Varela said officers dismantled physical structures inmates built within the facility, and had seized weapons and drugs found within cells.
“We will continue to clean up within this detention center because (inmates) should understand our clear message: the state is present,” Varela said on Thursday night. “It is we, not them, who have authority.”
Ecuador’s SNAI prison authority wrote on Twitter that police were still identifying victims, as dozens of relatives of inmates gathered outside a Guayaquil morgue in search of information about their loved ones.
Karen Zambrano, having spent three days outside the morgue to identify the body of her 23-year-old brother, said she saw in a video posted on social media that he had been decapitated. Authorities said at least six victims were decapitated.
“I feel pain, rage and impotence. I cannot bury my brother even though I know he is dead,” said Zambrano, 32.