Only hours after announcing that 30 prisoners had died in drug gang violence at the Guayaquil Litoral Penitentiary, national prison director Bolívar Garzón said the final death count could exceed 100. In a Wednesday afternoon press conference Garzón said that the earlier report was premature as was a National Police statement that order had been restored at 8 a.m.
“In fact, the killings continued throughout the morning because we had not reestablished total control,” he said. “This afternoon, we are still discovering bodies, many of them beheaded and mutilated. The proportions of the riot and murders is truly horrendous, something we have not seen before.”
According to Garzón, police did not control all prison blocks until after 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The riot follows eight other uprisings in Guayaquil, Cuenca and Latacunga prisons that have left more than 150 dead since the beginning of the year. According to authorities, almost all the murders are connected to drug gangs with ties to Mexican cartels.
Police say the violence began early Tuesday when inmates from two prison blocks, representing the Los Lobos and another drug gang forced their way into a third block occupied by prisoners associated with the Los Choneros gang. According to officials, the intruders had guns, knives and hand grenades when they began their attack.
Regional police commander Fausto Buenaño said that prisoners entered the prison block by climbing to the penitentiary roof and used explosives to open a passage. “We had understood that the area had been secured and entry to the roof was not possible but there apparently was a breakdown in security.”
Shortly before noon Tuesday, police attempted to enter the block where the violence was occurring but were driven back by the prisoners. Two police who suffered injuries in the attempt are being treated in a Guayaquil hospital.
As they continued their sweep of the prison late Wednesday, police say they have seized hundreds of weapons, including guns, knives, machetes, ammunition, dynamite and hand grenades. Buenaño said the amount of weapons recovered was “unbelievable” due to the frequent weapons searches conducted by prison police and guards.
In comments to a Guayaquil radio station Wednesday morning, an unnamed police captain described the scene as “horrible beyond belief” when his men entered the block where the violence occurred. “Some of the victims had their heads cut off and had been disemboweled and lay is pools of blood. My people were overcome by the carnage and some vomited at what they saw,” he said.
Outside the prison, located just north of Guayaquil in Daule, family members of prisoners gathered Wednesday afternoon as ambulances took away the dead and injured. At one point, members of the group tried to block a military convey that moved into position outside of the prison gates.