Weapons, cellphones seized after deadly Ecuador prison riots

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Soldiers leave the prison "Centro de Rehabilitacion Social Regional Centro Norte Cotopaxi" where deadly riots broke out inside, two days prior in Latacunga, Ecuador, early Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Ecuador experienced its deadliest prison riots ever this week when seemingly coordinated fights broke out in facilities in three different cities, leaving 79 inmates dead as of Wednesday and exposing the limited control that authorities have over people behind bars. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

MEXICO CITY – Authorities in Ecuador on Thursday announced that law enforcement officers responding to the country’s deadliest prison riots have seized firearms, cellphones, handmade weapons and other banned objects.

The seizures happened Wednesday night in one of the prisons where seemingly coordinated fights among gangs broke out Monday leaving dozens of inmates dead and exposing the limited control that authorities have over people behind bars. The national agency overseeing detention centers said officers in that prison in the Pacific coast city of Guayaquil were also able to thwart the escape of inmates and captured more than 10 who were already outside the facility’s perimeter.

Photos tweeted by Ecuador’s police show more than a dozen inmates lying on the ground, face down, all wearing a variety of shorts and T-shirts, including a sports jersey. The agency said it assisted in preventing the “massive escape of about 166 inmates.”

Hundreds of police officers and military personnel have converged on the prisons since the unrest began in the prisons’ maximum-security wings as rival gangs fought for leadership. Photographs and videos on social media show alleged inmates who had been decapitated and dismembered amid pools of blood.

A planned protest by families of inmates Thursday in the capital of Quito did not materialize when only three relatives showed up.

The seizures happened hours after President Lenín Moreno, whose term ends in May, announced he will seek help from other Latin American countries to address the crisis in Ecuador’s prisons and acknowledged the system is deficient and lacks financial resources.

Contraband is not uncommon in prisons in Latin America, where authorities often lack control and inmates are left to effectively guard themselves, arranging their own social systems and using intimidation, abuse and extortion to accumulate power.

In prisons in Bolivia, for example, drugs, weapons and unauthorized people including prostitutes go in and out of prisons constantly, said Mark Ungar, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College in the U.S. Cellphones illegally introduced to prisons create a particular challenge for authorities because they allow some people to continue their illicit activities despite their incarceration.