Dozens of Ecuadorian inmates were killed Tuesday in a bloody confrontation between rival gangs in three prisons fighting for control of the facilities, the government said.

The riots broke out in a prison in the coastal city of Guayaquil as well in two more in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Azuay, said Edmundo Moncayo, head of the Ecuadorian penal service. At least 75 prisoners were killed in coordinated attacks in the country’s worst violence recently.


Lenin Moreno

said 800 police officers were sent to regain control and that the military was deployed outside the prisons to enforce strict controls on weapons, ammunition and explosives. About 20 police officers were injured, authorities said.

Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded prisons are breeding grounds for deadly civil unrest and bloody gang battles. Violent gangs from Mexico to Colombia and Brazil often fight for control in prisons, with which they coordinate drug trafficking and other criminal activities outside the prison.

In Ecuador, the violence took place on Tuesday, which included grizzly mutilations by inmates who recorded cell phone activity, rocked a nation where prison violence has increased in recent years.

Mr Pontón said an increase in violence since 2019 has been fueled by gangs working for the Fighted control of the prisons used to monitor drug trafficking. He said the penal system’s resources have declined in recent years due to spending cuts by Mr Moreno’s financially troubled government. The reform also did not improve security, he said.

Authorities said the violence broke out on Tuesday after the late Monday seized two guns from inmates who were intended to kill the leaders of a rival gang.

The group originally targeted , responded with its own attack on the gang who planned the original raid, Moncayo told reporters.

State media reported that authorities had been bracing for gang violence since December when the leader of the Choneros gang entered was killed at a mall in Manta, a port city full of drug trafficking.

Other criminal organizations, such as the Chone Killers and Los Lobos, tried to take control of the country’s prisons, according to El Telegrafo, a state newspaper.

Videos recorded by inmates and in on Tuesday shared on social media showed beheadings and other gruesome murders.

“Those behind it are obviously organized crime that seeks to intimidate the population and civil authorities,” Mr Pontón said. “There is a certain amount of sadism.”