Prisoners at a penitentiary in the Ecuadoran city of Cuenca are holding hostage 50 guards and seven police officers, Interior Minister Juan Zapata said Thursday.
“We are concerned about the safety of our officials,” he said at a press conference in the capital Quito.
The mass hostage-taking came a day after hundreds of soldiers and police officers carried out an operation to search for weapons, ammunition and explosives in one of the country’s main penitentiaries, in the Andean city of Latacunga in the south.
SNAI, the state office in charge of prisons, said earlier in the day that the hostage-taking was a reprisal for that operation. But authorities later said it was in protest at the transfer of inmates to other prisons.
Ecuador’s prisons have been the location of massacres by rival gangs with links to Colombian and Mexican cartels that have led to more than 430 inmate deaths since 2021, often leaving a trail of burned and dismembered bodies.
The country, until a few years ago a peaceful South American haven nestled between the world’s largest cocaine producers — Colombia and Peru — has recently descended into violence as it has itself become a hub for drug trafficking.