Ecuador battles to recover dead bodies from prison fire

Written by Staff Writer

This article is part of “Where Are They Now?,” a CNN series following the stories of seven missing African-Americans from Detroit to Rio and out to the other side of the globe.

Ecuador has identified the bodies of 54 people that were found during a riot at one of its prisons on Thursday. The overcrowded Lima-Guaymas prison in the country’s Amazon region was jammed with nearly 3,000 prisoners, including many of the country’s most notorious drug dealers.

Authorities say the men had all been declared dead. However, they later found 63 more bodies hiding in the cell block after inmates there began throwing bricks at the prison building after a blaze broke out at the facility.

“In these conditions, you can’t prevent everyone from being brought to the front of the wing. And some of them were trapped and left behind,” Pedraza said.

This wasn’t the first time the Lima-Guaymas prison, a 330-year-old former army barracks, had burned down. It was an infamous ganglord’s final bid to retake control of the jail, a player in the Peruvian drug trade for a century.

Though the riots and fires damaged the wing where the remains were found, authorities say they are looking to move the remaining prisoners to another area of the prison and immediately carry out inspections.

Details of how most of the men died will become clearer once autopsies are performed, but this is the latest incident in a series of tragedies linked to detention in Ecuador.

Guernica remembers the victims of the 1991 Caracazo

In 2014, 35 people were killed at another prison in a similar way to this week’s riot. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said that overcrowding was the main cause for the deaths. The prison’s population had grown from the previous year by nearly 500%.

“As a society, we have to think about alternatives to incarceration. Necessary facilities have to be built,” said María Isabel Maytham, the head of the National Institute of Penitentiary and Legal Medicine.

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