Cuenca prison riot leaves at least 20 dead with many injured; Police and military slowly regain control
At least 20 prisoners at the Turi Penitentiary have died and an undetermined number have been injured during a riot that began shortly after midnight Sunday. In an afternoon news conference, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said the situation is “not yet under control,” adding that police and military police continue efforts to restore order in two of the prison’s nine pavilions.
In a 9 p.m. update, Carrillo said “progress has been made” but inmates still control parts of the two pavilions. He said it could take as much 48 hours to secure the facility. “We must take maximum precautions since some of the rioters have firearms,” he said.
Residents living near the prison reported hearing gunshots throughout the night and during the day Sunday but it was unclear if they were part of the uprising or police action to restore order. Based on social media videos, some of the gunfire was from automatic weapons.
As late as 4:30 p.m. Sunday, clouds of tear gas floated above the prison and bystanders reported hearing gunshots and explosions.
National Police reported that at least 55 prisonsers attempted an escape about 4 a.m. but were stopped before they reached perimeter fences. During his press conference, Carrillo said he believe there were no other escapes but said he was awaiting reports from prison officials and guards.
Several ambulances were seen coming and going from the prison Sunday and Carrillo said that the injured were being transported to the public hospital and to José Carrasco Arteaga Social Security hospital in Cuenca. He said the dead were taken to the municipal morgue for identification, adding that several bodies had been decapitated.
About 150 family members of prisoners gathered outside the prison’s main gate Sunday morning, many demanding information about the dead and injured. In the afternoon, the crowd was moved away from the prison because, according to police, they were impeding access of ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
Ecuador Secretary of Human Rights Bernarda Ordóñez told family members that police had moved about 200 non-violent prisoners out of the riot area but was not able to provide names. At 7 p.m., 13 of the dead prisoners had been identified and their families notified, she said.
According to the Interior Ministry, 800 police and 200 military personnel were at the prison early Sunday night, many of them flown in during the day from Guayaquil and Quito.
Carrillo refused to speculate on conditions that triggered the riot but said it was “probably gang related.” According to Ordóñez, the conflict was between the Los Lobos and three smaller gangs. “The gangs are based in Guayaquil and are involved in illegal drug activity,” she said. “The Los Lobos are part of the Mexican New Generation cartel.”
On February 23, 2021, another riot between rival gangs at Turi left 34 dead and two dozen inured. Many of the dead were decapitated, dismembered or burned.