Monday, February 20, 2012

Mexico Prison Riot Staged As a Cover for Jail Break?

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.

News Briefs

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gatopardo has a long journalism piece asking “what would Arizona do without Mexicans?”
  • An opinion piece in the Washington Post argues that the US should provide Cuba with the resources it needs in order to better allow both countries to respond to and prevent an oil spill disaster. Spanish oil company Repsol recently started deep sea drilling in Cuban waters, where an oil spill could affect Florida and the southeast US coast.
  • 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.

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