Over a dozen alleged members of the Barrio 18 gang were arrested for their participation in a series of attacks against police stations in Guatemala City, which authorities say was in response to security forces putting down a bloody riot in a juvenile detention center.
The arrests capped a chaotic 48 hours in Guatemala City, which began on the afternoon of March 19 when inmates at the juvenile dentention center Etapa 2 took seven guards hostage.
Two of the guards were killed over the next 24 hours, during which the inmates started a fire and climbed to the roof of the facility, reported Prensa Libre. Security forces were able to rescue the remaining hostages on March 20, but two later died at a hospital and two others have sustained life-threatening injuries.
The inmates were reportedly demanding that 200 youths be transferred from a separate juvenile detention center to Etapa 2, in addition to calling for better living conditions. The 200 adolescents appear to belong to the Barrio 18, according to Prensa Libre.
Just hours after the riot ended, a wave of attacks began against police stations in Guatemala City that left three National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil – PNC) officers dead and at least eight injured, reported Reuters. Nine attacks were registered in all, including one in the western department of Quetzaltenango.
Authorities arrested thirteen suspected Barrio 18 members who they say were responsible for the attacks, according to Prensa Libre. They also seized five rifles, a grenade launcher and three cars, among other items.
PNC Director Nery Ramos said the attacks were in response to the authorities liberating the hostages from Etapa 2.
InSight Crime Analysis
The string of attacks against police stations displays a level of gang aggression toward security forces rarely seen in Guatemala. While the gangs are believed to be a principal driver of the country’s high homicide rates, coordinated campaigns against the police are more often seen in neighboring El Salvador. The attacks are a chilling reminder of the lethality of Guatemala’s gangs, and their ability to manufacture chaos seemingly at a moment’s notice.
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Meanwhile, the riot that sparked the attacks reveals how powerful the gangs have become inside the country’s juvenile detention centers. The Barrio 18 and its archrival, the MS13, have long used the adult prisons as bases of operations and as recruiting grounds. The recent events indicate the juvenile facilities have now succumbed to the gangs as well. This is likely due to the authorities’ failure to enact broader prison reform in addition to the gangs’ practice of enlisting children to partake in criminal activities.