Mexico Prison Riot Was Cover for Jailbreak, Officials Say
It seemed a run-of-the-mill prison riot, though one that left 44 inmates beaten or knifed to death. In fact, the violence on Sunday in northern Mexico served as cover for a massive jailbreak by members of the country’s deadliest criminal gang, the Zetas.
Authorities on Monday revealed that 30 Zetas henchmen escaped from the maximum-security prison in Apodaca during the brawl — with the apparent complicity of guards and possibly other top officials.
The deadly violence underscored the abysmal condition of Mexican prisons, which are woefully overcrowded, rife with corruption and prone to high-profile escapes.
The warden, three other penitentiary officials and 18 guards have been removed or suspended and detained for questioning, said Rodrigo Medina, governor of Nuevo Leon state, where Apodaca is located.
All of those killed, he added, were from the Zetas’ bitter rival, the Gulf cartel. The two gangs, former allies, are now at war for control of part of Mexico’s drug trade and other criminal enterprises.
“We can say without a doubt that this was premeditated and planned,” Medina said at a news conference, where he announced a nearly $800,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the escapees.
“This isn’t a thing where, in the middle of a riot, it occurred to these people to escape.” Medina said. “There was a plan, which undoubtedly relied on the complicity of some officials.”
While overcrowding, violence and corruption plague penal systems throughout Latin America, the problems are especially acute in Mexico, where a military crackdown on drug cartels has helped fill cells, often to more than double their intended capacity.
Frequently, entire criminal enterprises are run from inside jailhouse walls; in a recent wave of telephone extortions, investigators found that the vast majority of calls demanding money originated from prisons.