The shadow of some prison bars is reflected on the ground
Prisons in Ecuador were on maximum alert after a major break. Photo: Pixabay.

Hell in Ecuador's prisons: More than 100 left dead after riot

In the last week, there have been some major internal disputes in one of Ecuador's largest maximum-security prisons, leaving hundreds dead.


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The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, declared a state of emergency in all the prisons of the country for 60 days to prevent a current wave of violence from continuing to grow, especially due to the critical conditions of overcrowding and corruption inside them.

Guayaquil was the epicenter of the latest clashes between criminal gangs inside a prison, which left 116 people dead — with some beheaded victims — and at least 80 wounded. According to the police chief of the port city of Ecuador, thanks to the intervention of 400 agents, a much worse bloodshed was prevented amid clashes of gunshots and grenades.


So far in 2021, more than 300 inmates have died in Ecuador's prisons.

In February 2021, rival gangs clashed simultaneously in four detention centers, leaving 79 people dead.

In July 2021, after the riots in Guayaquil and Cotopaxi prisons, another 22 died.

In 2020, according to President Lasso, 103 inmates were murdered.


For the Ecuadorian authorities, overcrowding is one of the most relevant causes of the violence in prisons. Since 2010, the population deprived of liberty has tripled and although new prisons have been built, it is currently estimated that there are at least 40,000 prisoners in facilities with space 33,000.

In addition, there are only 1,500 guards for this population and the government recently cut the budget for prison activities from $153 million in 2017 to just $88 million in 2020.

According to Fausto Cobo, colonel of the reserve and who until the last riots served as head of the SNAI at the appointment of Lasso, greater investment is required, not only in infrastructure and weapons, but also in training for security personnel and more numbers in their ranks.

The president, for his part, is not yet clear on how to combat this crisis, but points out that the situation was inherited from previous administrations that allowed the situation to escalate until recent dramatics.

The war on drugs and gangs in prison

Thanks to the current anti-drug strategy led by the United States, prisons, not only in Ecuador, but throughout Latin America, are overcrowded and have become the battlefield between gangs. The incidences are also getting more violent and costly.

It is known that many criminal empires are still directed from prisons and several criminal acts are ordered per week from cells. The massacres in Ecuador are also related to international drug trafficking. The country is located between Peru and Colombia, the largest cocaine producers in the world, and Guayaquil is considered one of the main ports of shipment for the drug in Latin America.


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