Mexican jail riot leaves 44 dead


A riot in a northern Mexican prison that left 44 people dead yesterday is being blamed on rival drug gangs.

The incident provides yet another sign of the violence and crowding overwhelming Latin American prisons just days after a fire at a penitentiary in Honduras killed over 350 people.

The authorities in Mexico's Nuevo Leon state said a confrontation among inmates in two cellblocks broke out early yesterday morning and lasted a few hours before the state and federal police could bring the prison, in Apodaca, under control.

Jorge Domene, a spokesman for the state government, said it appeared that members of Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, two of Mexico's most powerful criminal groups, started the fight as part of a power struggle, using knives, rocks and sticks. He said firearms were not used.

Police said today 30 prisoners who escaped during the riot may have been from the Zetas gang.

The riot was the deadliest in a recent series of prison riots, including those in which 31 people died last month in Tamaulipas state. Some 20 were killed in Tamaulipas in October. In Durango state, 23 people were killed in 2010.

Deadly rioting is commonplace in Mexican and Central American prisons as a drug war rages among criminal groups and government forces, filling prisons and jails well beyond their capacity. Local news reports said the prison in Apodaca held 3,000 inmates but was built for 1,500.

Harsh overcrowding played a role in the fire last week that killed 359 people at a prison in central Honduras. It was one of the deadliest prison fires anywhere in decades. Officials were investigating the cause, including the possibility that an inmate had set fire to a mattress.

That prison held more than 850 inmates, twice its capacity, and, as in Mexico, many of the prisoners were being held on drug-related charges in a country overrun by drug-trafficking gangs shipping cocaine to the United States and beyond from South America.

Supervisors at the prison in Mexico were being held as part of the investigation, which Mr Domene said would also determine whether guards took part. In other prisons, inmates have been known to bribe guards for parties, drugs, prostitutes, mobile phones, TVs and even their freedom.

New York Times