Prison Gang War Sparks Riot, Leaves 31 Dead

( – Ecuadorean troops have ended a vicious prison riot — but not before more than 30 inmates died. Convicts had seized control of parts of the facility, backed up by an array of smuggled weapons. The government responded with massive force, using enough soldiers to overwhelm the rebels.

For years Colombia and Peru have been producing cocaine, which fuels organized crime in the US and Europe. The drug also causes damage closer to home, and over the last few years, its deadly influence has been creeping into Ecuador, which lies between the two main producers. The country has become a major hub for drug shipments, and its efforts to fight the trade mean its prison population has ballooned. Drug gangs are making the jails increasingly dangerous.

On July 22, inmates at the overcrowded Guayas 1 prison near Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, launched a riot. Six criminals died in the uprising, but it left them in control of much of the prison — with corrections officers as their hostages.

Prison riots in Ecuador have become very dangerous because the drug cartels have a lot of weaponry, and their money and contacts let them smuggle guns to their members inside. Knowing they might face heavy firepower, the government brought in 2,700 soldiers to take back control of the prison.

On Tuesday, the troops launched their assault, regaining control of the entire prison and seizing a lethal arsenal of weapons. Their haul included nine rifles, six handguns and even a grenade launcher. So much weaponry was found that Ecuador’s public prosecutor wants to launch a terrorism investigation into the facility.

Although the troops managed to end the rioting, there was a heavy cost. By the time they were in full control, the death toll had risen to 31, and a government statement said at least one of them had been beheaded. Meanwhile, the 5,600 residents of Guayas 1 will mostly be relieved the riot has ended; human rights activists say the inmates hadn’t eaten for three days by the time the troops went in.

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