A new episode of violence in an Ecuadorian prison, Friday April 14, left at least twelve dead after a series of incidents which had already left a dozen dead, including three guards, the prosecution announced on Saturday.

“An investigation has been opened to identify those responsible for the death of twelve detainees from the Littoral penitentiary in Guayaquil”, announced the Public Prosecutor’s Office, specifying that the bodies have gunshot wounds.

Six detainees had already been found hanged on Wednesday in this prison. The following day, three guards were shot dead by contract killers while they were in a restaurant outside the penitentiary. And on Friday, at least three prisoners were injured in gun battles at the same prison.

“Worst moment of violence”

Drug traffickers wage war on each other for control of the drug market and use prisons as centers of operation, which regularly provokes deadly clashes. Since February 2021, eight massacres have been recorded there, with more than 400 prisoners killed, most of them dismembered and burned.

The country’s main port on the Pacific coast, Guayaquil has in recent years become the hub and epicenter of drug trafficking in Ecuador, a country located between Colombia and Peru – the world’s main cocaine producers.

On Friday, Agence France-Presse correspondents heard gunfire from inside the prison and recorded aerial footage in which five bodies could be seen lying on the ground.

“We do not deny the reality and the fact that we are in the worst moment of violence in the country,” Ecuadorian Defense Minister Juan Zapata said on Friday. During the night from Friday to Saturday, the police and the army regained control of the prison which houses around 6,800 people.

“Terrorist acts”

The narco war has already killed more than 420 prisoners since 2021. In September 2022, some 120 prisoners were killed in the Guayas 1 penitentiary center, in the deadliest massacre in the country’s history and the one of the bloodiest in Latin America.

Drug-related violence is endemic in Ecuador. On Tuesday, around 30 armed men opened fire in the small fishing port of Esmeraldas, in the north of the country, near the Colombian border, killing nine. The assailants arrived by boat and car and, without a word, fired on those present. “What happened in Esmeraldas were not common law facts but terrorist acts,” Zapata said.

Faced with this violence, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency on March 3 for sixty days in three provinces, including those of Guayaquil and Esmeraldas. According to the first census taken in 2022, Ecuador has approximately 31,000 prisoners in thirty-six prisons with a combined capacity of 30,000 people.