Mexico Prison Deaths Show Endemic Problems, Criminal Conflicts

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A violent outbreak between rival gangs in a Mexico prison in the embattled state of Guerrero that left dozens of inmates dead reflects the fight for the local criminal market and the devastating consequences of official disregard for safety inside the prisons. 

A battle between rival gangs on July 6, left 28 dead and 3 injured in the maximum security wing of Mexico’s Las Cruces penitentiary, located in the beach resort town of Acapulco, Proceso reported

The prison’s director, Miguel Ángel Gómez Garduño, has since been dismissed while four more of the jail’s employees are under investigation, reported Animal Político. Officials are also investigating three prisoners who allegedly orchestrated and participated in the events with help from prison officials. 

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

The fighting allegedly broke out after a territorial dispute over control of the prison between two jail-based gangs, Los Juanitos and Los Arnolds, Digital Guerrero reported. The prison is reportedly the center of operations for the Independent Acapulco Cartel (Cártel Independiente de Acapulco), according to Proceso.

Twenty other prisoners who reportedly escaped during the battle have not yet been located, reported Proceso.

InSight Crime Analysis 

In Mexico, a slang word often used for prison is “el bote,” which directly translated means trash. Although anecdotal, the reference illustrates social attitudes towards those in prison, as well as those of the authorities.

The Las Cruces massacre will not have come as a surprise, especially to government officials directly involved in its running. At least seven incidents of “violence, illegality and abandonment” have been documented since 2011, security analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in El Universal. Las Cruces was, Hope says, a “horror that was growing for years.”

Built for just under 1,550 people, it held more than 2,300 at the time that the July 6 incident took place. And in 2016, the prison was red-flagged as one of Guerrero’s most problematic prisons by the National Human Rights Commission’s (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos – CNDH) National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons

Guerrero has been consumed by drug-related violence in recent years, and since the demise of the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), it has been contested by dozens of smaller criminal groups vying for control of the local drug consumption market. The penitentiaries, and the city of Acapulco — where Las Cruces is based — has seen some of the highest rates of violence in the country in recent years.

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