QUITO, Ecuador, Weds. Feb 24, 2021 (Reuters) – At least 62 people died in simultaneous violent riots in three Ecuadorean prisons on Tuesday that the government described as a concerted action by criminal organizations.
President Lenin Moreno has sought to control prison violence in the Andean country, declaring the prison system in a temporary state of emergency, because of the frequent confrontations between criminal gangs.
“These were two groups vying for criminal leadership within the detention centers,” said Edmundo Moncayo, director of Ecuador’s prison agency.
The toll had risen to 62 confirmed deaths, Moncayo said.
With the help of an additional 800 police officers, Moncayo said, authorities have been able “to control and restore order within the detention centers.”
The violence erupted in prisons in Guayas, Azuay and Cotopaxi provinces, which hold about 70% of Ecuador’s total prison population according to official statistics.
The government said there were wounded police officers, without giving further details. Prison officials managed to evacuate during the riots.
Moreno said on his Twitter account that he ordered the Armed Forces to “strictly control” arms, ammunition and explosives in the outer perimeters of Ecuador’s prisons.
Ecuador has about 53 detention centers, including those for juvenile offenders, with a prison population of some 37,500 people, according to official data.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, writing Sarah Kinosian and Brian Ellsworth Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)