Guatemalan President Otto Perez declared that the recent murder of a prison director was likely ordered by jailed gang members, highlighting the apparent ease with which criminals are able to maintain their outside networks while incarcerated.
On July 18, after only 15 days in his new role as director of the maximum security “El Infiernito” prison, Amilcar Corado Gonzalez was gunned down in the southern Guatemalan city of Escuintla. During his brief time on the job, Corado implemented a series of new disciplinary measures in the notorious prison, something that may have prompted inmates to order him killed, according to President Otto Perez.
“I’ve asked the Interior Ministry to investigate this crime because it cannot go unpunished. Everything points to it being ordered by gangs operating in the prison,” Perez declared.
El Infiernito houses some of Guatemala’s most powerful criminals, with many drug traffickers and leaders from the MS-13 gang currently serving sentences there, stated Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez.
InSight Crime Analysis
Guatemalan inmates are known for operating criminal networks that extend far outside of their confinements. Extortion rings are often run from prisons through the use of cell phones: one operation in the Infiernito prison was even discovered to have extorted five star hotels in neighboring El Salvador.
While the extortion is the most common activity run from inside prisons, the ordering of assassinations is less common. That said, Corado’s murder does not stand alone. In 2009, four prison officials were murdered in the space of five hours, while a jailed leader of the Barrio 18 gang is believed to have been behind the January 2011 bomb in Guatemala City that killed six people.
Guatemala is by no means the only country to struggle with crimes committed from inside its prisons. The MS-13 and Barrio 18 are known to operate extortion rackets from behind bars in El Salvador and Honduras. The problem is so great in Honduras that an estimated 50 percent of extortion carried out in capital city Tegucigalpa is reportedly directed from jails.
One of the principal drivers of this problem is severe overcrowding throughout the region’s prisons. Guatemala is currently running at 160 percent capacity, with Honduras and El Salvador at 143 and 254 percent respectively. This creates a fertile environment for gangs to continue to run their networks behind bars, while corrupt prison officials remain overwhelmed and underfunded.