Inmates standing trial for a 2013 prison riot in Bolivia that left dozens dead have said that they discussed the attack with police officers and had planned to pay them to collaborate, deepening concerns about corruption in the country’s prison system.
One of the inmates involved in the riot said that police knew about the attack in advance. “There was a discussion, a chat, with a special group of the police, so that they would be present during the act,” Luis Adan Tobias Ortiz told the court, reported Eju. He explained that the prisoners had decided “to raise money in order to pay the officers, so that they would front the operation,” reported La Razon.
The deadly riot began as gang members from one cell block launched an attack against rival gang members in another cell block. The attack was apparently launched as part of a territorial struggle to control different sectors or “patios” within the prison. Some 35 people, including an 18-month-old child who was living in the facility, were killed. The attack quickly spiraled out of control as rival gangs used home-made flame throwers against one another.
The initial investigation conducted in 2013 revealed that at least one police officer was likely complicit in the attack, and had opened a door to allow rioting inmates to pass from one cell block to another.
InSight Crime Analysis
If the accusations are true, they detail an entirely new level of police involvement and complicity in gang operations within Bolivia’s prison system.
In a 2014 investigation into conditions inside Palmasola prison, InSight Crime Co-director Jeremy McDermott reported that the police who guard the facility have long been known to accept bribes to facilitate the movement of goods and people into the prison. However, a situation in which inmates could pay the police in exchange for their active collaboration in cell-block attacks would be a disturbing new development.
SEE ALSO: Prisons
Bolivia’s prison system, albeit overcrowded and violent, has not yet reached the crisis levels of overt gang operations and violence that are common in the prison systems of Brazil, Venezuela, and much of Central America. These new allegations raise concerns about systemic corruption, which might go deeper than previously thought.