A series of riots and deaths in Ecuador’s notorious penitentiary system led authorities to discover an arsenal of weapons including homemade grenades.
Explosions in the Litoral Penitentiary in the western port city of Guayaquil that killed one person and left at least another five injured were reported by local media over the weekend. Authorities also freed a food service employee who was allegedly being held captive by a group of prisoners.
After retaking control of the prison, officials displayed 10 handguns, 10 large knives and nearly 300 bullets. They also said they’d discovered two makeshift grenades in the weapons stash. It's unclear whether the explosions reported were caused by gunshots or other DIY explosives.
But the recent discovery came on the heels of another massacre at the same prison just over a week prior.
On July 21, eight prisoners were reportedly stabbed to death behind the walls of the penitentiary while working in a garden. That same day, 14 prisoners died in another conflict in a different place—the Cotopaxi prison about 60 miles from the capital of Quito. Along with the dead, a further 41 others were injured while 100 prisoners escaped from Cotopaxi. Authorities said 64 have since been recaptured.
The murders are related to an ongoing prison gang war that has left over 100 dead in 2021.
The conflict allegedly began with the murder of a crime boss named Jorge Luis Zambrano, aka JL or Rasquiña, in December 2020. Zambrano reportedly headed a prison gang known as Los Choneros until his release in June 2020 from the Cotopaxi prison. He'd be gunned down in a shopping mall food court six months later.
His death caused a rupture in the Choneros gang leadership, according to authorities, that went into overdrive on February 23 when a series of coordinated riots broke out in prisons across the country that left a reported 79 dead. Authorities also confirmed that the recent incidents are connected to the ongoing conflict.
Ecuador’s new President Guillermo Lasso entered office in May and quickly took aim at combating the lawlessness in the country's prison system by appointing a member of the military, Coronel Fausto Cobo, to head the prison system.
Cobo tweeted on July 22 after the murders in the Litoral and Cotopaxi prisons that “the Prison System is controlled by narco criminals who have turned prisons into war zones between cartels and mafias due to disputes of command, control, markets and territories to carry out their criminal activities.”