Colombia: 43 dead after ‘disgusting massacre’ of 43 prisoners in Ecuador

Newspaper reports more than 50 people were killed, with the victims including 23 members of the Colombian paramilitary force

Ecuador has announced the identities of 43 people killed in last weekend’s prison riot as more details emerged about a brutal attack by Colombia’s most powerful paramilitary warlord.

The violence, in which 23 of the 43 victims are thought to have been members of the hardline Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), took place in the isolated coast town of Buenaventura, about 440 miles (750km) east of Quito.

The 33 prisoners and two guards were shot and stabbed in what the governor of Amazonas state, Eduardo Lempa, described as a “disgusting massacre”.

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Pictures of the bloody interior showed corpses riddled with bullet wounds and macabre mutilations: severed heads hanging from chains, a torn shirt, cigarette butts, toilet paper and broken glass.

The Guardian called on authorities to publish an official death toll of the attack, which left bodies scattered on the floors, upper floors and the roof of the prison. A statement from the state prosecutor’s office, published on Thursday, said 43 people were killed, but that further forensic work was still ongoing.

Lempa announced last week that only 26 had been confirmed dead and identified, as the building was in an isolated area on the south of the island, surrounded by water. He has said there were likely to be bodies in the floors below.

Official statistics provided to the weekly newspaper El Universo show that 43 prisoners died in the initial conflict, which began with a massacre at a bar near the port and continued with the assault on the prison.

Security forces scuffle with prisoners during riots in the jail. Photograph: Esteban Felix/AP

The authorities have so far declined to say who was involved, except to say that it was a group of prisoners of the same political group as Jorge 40, Farc’s leader. Jorge 40, whose real name is Leopoldo Reyes, is currently in prison in Colombia. He has repeatedly denied any involvement in violence.

The new details add details about the event and reveal the scope of the role played by Reyes. President Lenin Moreno has acknowledged the role of Colombian armed forces and other security forces in the botched rescue attempt of Reyes in 2008. It has also been revealed that Farc was creating a force made up of experienced ex-colombian paramilitaries to combat both paramilitaries and the drug cartels of Colombia’s northern mountains.

“When the paramilitary groups were fragmenting and demobilisation was happening, Farc began to receive an organisation of former paramilitaries, basically because they needed a structured group of people with a lot of combat experience,” said Javier Garcia, a professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine.

Parachutists land at the prison to evacuate the wounded, some of whom were headless, mutilated and covered in blood. Photograph: Javier Galeano/EPA

There is increasing belief, Garcia said, that some paramilitary commanders from Colombia’s “false positives” scandal, when thousands of innocent civilians were murdered to make the number of guerrillas killed appear higher, were involved in the mass execution of prisoners.

“It is a fact that politicians and security forces were part of a regime that used these things,” he said.

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The Colombia’s government suffered a humiliating and fatal blow to its reputation after one of its generals warned at the beginning of the prison riot that there was a risk it could go the way of the prison massacres of La Picota and Alfonso Roble.

Buenaventura, a booming port and the only city in the country that declared independence from Ecuador, was long seen as a favoured destination for Colombian criminals from coast to coast to head north and end up in the US.

The city, deep in the jungle, is a hub for criminal organisations that traffic in cocaine, fuel and consumer products destined for the US and Europe. It has a bloody history of violence dating back almost a century.

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