‘Zetas Turned Mexico Prison Into Mass Grave’

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An ongoing investigation into the Zetas has revealed how this violent criminal group used a prison to dispose of over 150 victims, focusing attention on the shocking level of corruption within Mexico’s prison system and state governments. 

Investigators from the Disappeared Persons subdivision of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office say the Zetas killed more than 150 people at the Piedras Negras prison in northern Coahuila state between 2010 and 2012, reported El Español

Victims were reportedly taken to the prison where Zetas members would kill them and often burn their bodies in diesel-filled barrels known as “ovens.” The remains were then thrown into a nearby river, lead investigator Juan José Yáñez was quoted as saying.

The Zetas are believed to have been in control of Piedras Negras during the time period in which these atrocities occurred. The facility allegedly manufactured uniforms, bulletproof vests, and modified cars to hide drugs and weapons for the Zetas. Piedras Negras was also used as a hideout and base of operations for the criminal group, Yáñez said. 

The investigation began in late 2014 after witnesses stated that two victims were last seen in or around Piedras Negras prison prior to their disappearance. Inmates later told investigators of numerous other cases in which Zetas members disposed of people in “ovens,” the report said. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

Speaking with La Jornada, Silvia Ortiz Solís of Grupo Vida (an organization working with families of the disappeared) disagreed with an assertion made by Yáñez that most of the victims were from rival criminal groups. But both agreed the case indicated a shocking level of corruption within the prison and local government.

“I can’t explain how something like this could happen without a reaction,” Yáñez commented.

Investigators are reportedly looking into allegations of similar incidents at other prisons in Coahuila.  

InSight Crime Analysis

The Zetas’ brazen use of Piedras Negras prison as a dumping ground for their victims speaks to the level of corruption within Mexico’s penitentiary system. Although this case dates back several years, Mexico has failed to enact significant reforms to its prison system since these barbarities reportedly took place. This became glaringly obvious last year when authorities arrested several top prison officials for their alleged role in the escape of notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán from a maximum security facility. 

The investigation calls attention to corruption not only within the prison system but Coahuila’s government as well. 

The period during which the Zetas reportedly controlled Piedras Negras roughly coincides with Humberto Moreira’s term as governor of Coahuila. Moreira was recently detained in Spain on money laundering charges and has been accused of links to the Zetas. In 2011, the Moreira administration blocked Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission from visiting the prison. Whether intentional or not, this decision likely delayed authorities from discovering the Zetas’ criminal operations inside the prison.

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