At least 12 inmates were killed in clashes that broke out in a prison in the Ecuadoran port of Guayaquil, the prosecutor's office said Saturday, the latest deadly violence to rock the city's penitentiary system.
The dozen inmate deaths occurred after a bloody confrontation erupted Friday, part of a spate of brutality that began when six detainees were found hanged in the same prison and three female guards were killed earlier in the week.
Ecuadoran prisons are the scene of recurrent massacres between prisoners, against a backdrop of rivalry between criminal groups fighting for control of lucrative drug trafficking.
"An investigation has been opened to identify those responsible for the death of 12 inmates from the Litoral Penitentiary," which is also known as Guayas 1, the prosecutor's office said, adding that the bodies had bullet wounds.
The country's main port on the Pacific coast, Guayaquil has in recent years become the epicenter of drug trafficking in Ecuador, located between Colombia and Peru, the world's main cocaine producers.
Since February 2021, eight massacres have been recorded in the country's prisons, with more than 400 inmates killed, most of them dismembered and burned.
After the six hanged inmates were found Wednesday, three female guards were shot dead Thursday by hired killers at a restaurant outside the prison complex.
On Friday, AFP correspondents could hear gunfire from within the prison and were able to record aerial images in which five bodies could be seen lying on the ground.
"We do not deny the reality and the fact that we are in the worst moment of violence in the country," Ecuadorian Defense Minister Juan Zapata said Friday, when the clashes began.
Overnight Friday to Saturday, the police and the army regained control of the prison, which houses around 6,800 inmates and is part of a large prison complex.
Drug traffickers use prisons as centers of operation, leading to deadly clashes at regular intervals.
In September, about 120 prisoners were killed in the Guayas 1 penitentiary during the deadliest massacre in the history of the country and one of the bloodiest in Latin America.
Drug-related violence is endemic in Ecuador. On Tuesday, around 30 armed men opened fire in the small fishing port of Esmeraldas, in the north of the country, near the Colombian border, killing nine people.
The assailants arrived by boat and car and, without a word, started shooting.
"What happened in Esmeraldas were not acts of common crime, they were terrorist acts," Zapata said.
Faced with the onslaught of violence, President Guillermo Lasso declared a 60-day state of emergency on March 3 in three provinces, including Guayaquil and Esmeraldas.
According to the first census of the country's prisons carried out in 2022, Ecuador has about 31,000 prisoners in 36 prisons with a capacity of 30,000 people.