Guards at a violence-plagued penitentiary complex in Ecuador‘s largest city on Wednesday found six inmates hanged, prison authorities said.
The SNAI prison administration authority told AFP the six bodies were found in their cells at the jail in the southwestern port city of Guayaquil, which is plagued with drug trafficking-related violence.
The Guayaquil prison complex has been the site of Ecuador’s worst jail massacres in recent years caused by gang rivalries.
The bodies were found “while checking the pavilions,” SNAI said in a statement.
Authorities did not say whether the inmates’ bodies showed any signs of violence, nor whether they belonged to gangs.
The grisly discovery comes a day after around 30 gunmen opened fire at a fishing port in northwestern Ecuador, killing nine, in an attack Interior Minister Juan Zapata blamed on a territorial fight between gangs.
The hanged inmates were found in pavilion number five of the Guayas 1 prison, which houses 6,800 inmates and is part of the massive penitentiary complex.
Local media have reported that the pavilion is controlled by a gang known as Las Aguilas (the eagles), which extorts other prisoners.
Tuesday’s attack in the impoverished Esmeraldas province happened because fishermen “preferred the security” of one criminal organization and were targeted by another in retaliation, said Zapata.
Ecuador is located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two largest producers of cocaine, much of which is sent to the United States and Europe from Ecuadoran ports, principally Guayaquil.
Consequently, Ecuador has seen a recent rise in violence and murders related to drug trafficking.
Its murder rate almost doubled from 14 per 100,000 citizens in 2021 to 25 a year later.
Both Guayaquil and the northwestern Esmeraldas province have been hard hit by a surge in violence.
On March 3, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in Guayaquil and Esmeraldas.
Prisons are another battle zone between rival gangs.
Since February 2021, there have been eight prison massacres in which more than 400 inmates have been killed, many dismembered or burned.
In the worst such massacre in September 2021, 119 inmates were killed.
Gangs that vie for control of the lucrative trafficking trade have often controlled operations from within the prison system.
Overcrowding has been a problem in Ecuadoran prisons. There is capacity for 30,000 inmates but as recently as 2021 there were 39,000 people incarcerated.
That number dropped to just over 31,300 according to a prison population census last year.