A prison fight between rival criminal organizations the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas may have been intended to distract authorities while other inmates escaped, officials said Monday. At least 44 people were killed during the Sunday riot, in which prisoners used stones, clubs, and other sharp objects as weapons, reports the New York Times. El Universal described it as the worst massacre in the history of Mexican prison fights. EFE calls it the most serious prison tragedy in the past five years. The Apodaca penitenciary is found just outside Monterrey in Nuevo Leon state, one of the most violent in Mexico due to the ongoing Zetas-Gulf feud.
Nuevo Leon security spokesman Domene Zambrano said that after conducting a review of the prison population, there appeared to be "absences." This lent credence to the theory that the gang fight may have actually been intended to allow some inmates to escape, he said. However, it would be “premature” to say how many prisoners were missing, and whether they belonged to either the Gulf Cartel or the Zetas, he added.
17 prison officials, including the director of security, are being questioned about the gang fight, according to Milenio. It is unclear which gang provoked the confrontation, but it appears that prison guards would have had to allow the instigators to cross over to another section of the prison, in order to fight their rivals.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the Apodaca prison -- which houses 2,700 inmates, although it is built to house just 1,700 -- again calls attention to the endemic problems facing Latin America’s prison population: overcrowding, corrupt staff, and inhumane living conditions. The Apodaca riot followed another deadly prison fight registered last January in Tamaulipas, in which at least 31 inmates died. And, with the recent death of the 359th victim of the deadly prison fire in Honduras, the Apodaca disaster proves again that violent, inhuman prison conditions is a regionwide problem.
- The New York Times on Venezuela’s classical music program, designed to train children from some of its poorest barrios. The program, known as El Sistema, is one of the most popular in Venezuela, and has sparked accusations from some prominent Venezuelan classical musicians that President Hugo Chavez is using the training program for political ends.
- Both the LA Times and NPR have profiles of Josefina Vazquez Mota, the first female presidential candidate for a major political party in Mexico. The LA Times notes that rather than casting herself as a champion of progressive women’s causes, Vazquez Mota appears to be highlighting her “everywoman” background, which includes emphasizing her conservative Catholicism and opposition to abortion.
- An extract from Proceso critiques President Felipe Calderon’s recent assertion that Juarez is turning itself around, as murder rates in 2011 were halved compared to the record seen in 2010, with over 3,000 homicides.
- An interesting op-ed in the Miami Herald takes an inside look at a Honduras prison, describing the inhumane conditions in colorful detail, where prisoners face poor hygiene, malnutrition, and lack of space. Another piece from the newspaper notes the tragedy’s aftermath may humanize the way inmates are seen in Honduran society, as families struggle with concerns that the autopsies will be carried out incorrectly. Elsewhere, analysis from The Nation argues that Honduras’ overcrowded prisons are a symptom of the militarization of society which began after the 2009 military coup.
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- The Center for Strategic and International Studies has an audio review of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s time in office so far.
- Mercopress reports that Argentina is now using “satellite imagery” in order to determine whether foreign vessels are conducting exploration activities with permission in Argentine waters near the Falkland Islands.
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- The Inter-American Dialogue has a new report examining the expansion of Chinese loans in Latin America.
- La Prensa Libre reports that former Guatemala military strongman Efrain Rios Mott has requested that the case against him be closed. A judge has ordered that the former dictator stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
- Justice in Mexico analyzes what the prevalence of lynchings in Mexico says about the public mistrust of judicial institutions.