Grenades, Guns, and Dynamite: Ecuador Prison Gangs Keep Killing Each Other

The latest gang massacre brings the death toll in Ecuador's prisons to more than 300 this year.
Relatives wait outside the morgue for news on their relatives who were inmates at the Litoral penitentiary, after deadly riots broke out inside the prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador
Relatives wait outside the morgue for news on their relatives who were inmates at the Litoral penitentiary, after deadly riots broke out inside the prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa).

Another massacre in a notorious prison in Ecuador over the weekend left at least 68 inmates dead and 25 wounded. 


The latest riot is connected to an ongoing war between prison gangs that has led to over 300 deaths in 2021 alone in the Ecuadorian penitentiary system, according to The Associated Press.

The violence began late Friday night in the Litoral Penitentiary, an overcrowded and gang-controlled prison in the coastal city of Guayaquil. The penitentiary was the site of Ecuador's bloodiest riot in history in September when over 100 people died during violent conflicts inside the facility.

Prior to the most recent incident, police arrested three people who were trying to smuggle guns, grenades, and dynamite into the prison Friday morning. Gangs within prisons throughout Ecuador have successfully stockpiled weapons and explosives and many of the conflicts over the past year have involved shootings, beheadings, and explosions. Videos that spread on social media, allegedly of this weekend's violence, showed dead bodies scattered on the floor being lit on fire as other inmates appeared to be celebrating nearby. A separate video apparently filmed by an inmate shows blood-drenched floors as gunshots are heard in the background. VICE World News could not independently verify the videos.


Police and military officers search for inmates outside the Litoral prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador after a riot that took place in June 2021. (Photo by Gerardo Menoscal/Agencia Press South/Getty Images).

The war is believed to be connected to the December 2020 death of Jorge Luis Zambrano, aka JL or Rasquiña. Zambrano allegedly long led the country's largest prison gang, Los Choneros, before being released in June 2020. He was gunned down six months later in a shopping mall in the seaside city of Manta, about 125 miles from Guayaquil.

Ecuadorian authorities have claimed that since the death of Zambrano, Los Choneros have splintered into various factions while other prison gangs have emerged, leading to numerous conflicts over the control of different penitentiaries throughout the country. At least three facilities have seen riots that involved mass murders in 2021.

Along with controlling the prisons, the gangs are also involved in the drug trade outside the prison and are believed to be behind much of the drug sales throughout the country. Ecuador has also become a prominent drug shipment nation due to its proximity to coca producing countries like Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. Authorities have said that some groups have ties to Mexican drug cartels.

The chaos in the prison system has not gone unnoticed by authorities. The government of President Guillermo Lasso has decreed numerous states of emergency in the prison since he took office in May. He's also changed the top prison security official in the country twice in less than six months. The most recent appointee, Bolívar Garzón, resigned yesterday after only 47 days on the job, and Lasso will now have to name his third top prison official.

Lasso announced Sunday that he has called emergency meetings across the government, involving high-ranking officials from various government bodies including the supreme court, attorney general's office and the military, to try and find a solution to the ongoing carnage happening behind bars.