Families grieve after rival Mexican drug gangs hack each other to death in horror prison riot
Corrections officials accused of being complicit after 28 inmates were killed in rampage
Shell-shocked relatives of Mexican inmates who had been decapitated and mutilated by their rivals behind bars have condemned what they called a reign of terror inflicted by gangs that extort and torture prisoners.
Twenty-eight inmates were killed as rioters beheaded and hacked their rivals to death on Thursday at the Las Cruces prison in Acapulco, the latest explosion of violence in Mexico’s often lawless jails.
Brenda Lopez, a 23-year-old student, waited with her 80-year-old grandmother outside the hulking concrete structure for news of her uncle: “They won’t tell us anything. We don’t know how he is, where he is.”
Overnight, dozens of grieving relatives gathered outside the Pacific coast resort town’s morgue, waiting to be called in to identify their loved ones’ bodies.
As they stood in agony, with police lights flashing across their faces, they spoke in hushed tones about what they described as the abysmal conditions inside the jail, which holds nearly 2,200 inmates – 65 per cent over capacity, according to official figures.
“He didn’t have to tell me how badly they treated him inside. You could see it a mile away,” one 25-year-old woman said of her dead relative, fearful of giving her name. “The mafia ruled in there. The others lived in fear.”
One man waiting outside, himself a former prisoner, told AFP the jail was effectively governed by gangs – like many in Mexico, where corruption abounds in the penitentiary system and the multibillion-dollar narcotics business has fuelled an explosion of powerful, ultra-violent drug cartels.
“It’s a time bomb,” said the man, puffing nervously on a cigarette and asking to be identified only as Aviles for fear of reprisals by cartel lookouts he said were hovering nearby.
He described a facility in which the jailers were on the payroll of the main prison gang, members of a drug cartel called the Independent Acapulco Cartel.
The gang smuggled in guns and drugs with impunity, extorting and torturing other inmates, said Aviles, who served five years at Las Cruces, three of them in the maximum-security wing where the riot erupted.
“I was tortured, too. The guards were all on the take. The prison director, too,” he said.
He said the prisoners at Las Cruces “are criminals and all, but they shouldn’t have to pay for it like that”.
Authorities have announced that all staff at the prison are under investigation over the riot, including its director.