Ecuador has identified seven dead from this week’s jail riots that left at least two inmates dead and 59 others injured, a government spokesman said on Friday.
The brutal killings on Wednesday that began with an armed jail break followed the discovery on Sunday of the bodies of 56 inmates found in a different prison. Most were decapitated and had their hands bound with twine. Authorities say 51 of the 56 were dead from “sharp force injuries,” with the rest found with no bullet wounds. Two inmates were arrested for their alleged involvement in the killings.
The more recent violence appeared to be “more organized” than earlier ones, which brought calls for calm from the president and lawmakers, President Lenin Moreno told a news conference on Thursday.
It was unclear how the latest violence was triggered, or what led to the Tuesday night breakout in Guayaquil’s Manabi Prison, a lawless, ramshackle facility once marked by riots that left around 200 inmates dead and 1,300 injured.
In recent months, there has been rising discontent among inmates who are demanding more perks and privileges and better medical treatment.
Moreno has promised to overhaul jails, increase security to curb a sharp rise in assaults inside prisons, and accelerate the process of reducing some of the estimated 500,000 inmates by next year.
Eduardo Montes, an opposition lawmaker who has raised questions about who orchestrated the jailbreaks, told The Washington Post on Thursday that authorities are investigating whether corrupt prison guards or corrupt drug traffickers were behind the recent violence.
Montes was elected to the assembly last year to fight against what he described as the worsening conditions inside prisons. Prison violence has escalated in recent years due to the inability of the corrections department to adequately equip prisons with capacity to house the influx of inmates, Montes said.
Despite budget cuts and a lack of resources, authorities have cut the number of guards and anti-riot equipment available inside the prisons, Montes said. Corrupt prison guards are feeding inmates last meals and ordering them to line up to be fed, Montes said.
Authorities have received thousands of death threats from inmates for demanding better living conditions, Moreno said on Thursday.
Earlier in the week, prosecutors said a preliminary investigation found that employees of the department responsible for Manabi and another prison in Guayaquil knew about the escape of the men but failed to report it, according to Reuters. It is unclear how the men escaped.
On Friday, Ecuadorean state news agency El Comercio quoted a spokesperson for the state prosecutor’s office as saying that they “will work with all authority to investigate the circumstances of these incidents as a matter of utmost priority.”
Pablo Sarmiento, the national director of national penitentiary health, told reporters that the hospital that treated patients after Wednesday’s violence had been equipped with only enough equipment to treat 60 inmates but had treated more than 100.
The government has called in 17 military units to help secure the prisons and is training law enforcement officers for the job.
“This is not about prisons as a police force,” Moreno said. “It’s not about prisons being colonies or prisons being prisons; it’s about the institutions having the capacity to keep their watch.”