The director of the Apodaca prison in Monterrey, Mexico, was fired yesterday along with several prison officials following Sunday’s bloody riot that killed 44 inmates and led to the escape of 30 more prisoners. The escaped prisons are suspected of having ties to the Zetas drug cartel, while most of the murdered inmates were from the rival Gulf gang. The two gangs were allies before they split in 2010 in a turf war over Monterrey’s drug trafficking routes.
The dismissed officials were suspected of abetting the riot and consequent prison break, as there was no sign that the inmates received external help. “It is hard for us to accept that the treachery, corruption and complicity of some [officials] can undermine the work of the good police and military who risk their lives every day for public security,” said Nuevo León Governor Rodrigo Medina. Prison guards in Mexico are susceptible to corruption due to low pay and common threats made to them or their families by gangs. A $775,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of the fugitive prisoners. One of the escaped inmates was identified as Oscar Manuel Bernal, alias “El Spider,” a Zeta lieutenant arrested in 2010 for the murder of the Nuevo León police commander.
Overcrowding and corruption in prisons has been a persistent problem in Nuevo León and other states at the center of Mexico’s drug war. In the state of Tamaulipas, a riot last month killed 31 people, while 20 more died in a similar conflict in October. Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras are facing similar problems. Only last week, a fire in the severely overcrowded Comoyagua penitentiary killed 359 inmates in Honduras. The prison held twice its capacity of inmates, many of whom were being held on suspicion of drug- or gang-related activity but were not convicted of any crime.