Following a prison break near Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon – one of Mexico’s states that borders Texas – Governor Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz has confirmed that at least 30 convicts have escaped following rioting at the Apodaca prison facility on February 19. In a February 20 press conference, Medina said “It was during a riot and disorder within the prison that a group of 30 prisoners managed to escape confinement,” adding that he could also confirm that they belong to Mexico’s ultra-violent Los Zetas narcotics cartel. The Mexican government is offering 10 million pesos ($782,129) for information leading to the arrest of the criminals. According to Mexican media, four high-ranking officials at the prison, including the chief warden, are now under investigation for possible complicity.
Medina said that he has ordered an intense manhunt following the prison break. The names of the escapees have been released, while their photographs will soon be distributed to the public. The governor said that he expects the public’s help in finding the escaped criminals. Following the break out, Medina has also ordered tighter security at all of Nuevo Leon’s prisons.
The governor said that the state would provide support to the families of the 44 prisoners who were killed in the riot, in the form of psychological counselling and funeral arrangements. All of the dead prisoners have been identified, with the exception of two who are still being identified. Governor Medina said, “The increased numbers of convicts involved in organized crime in prison has had a qualitative impact.” Medina said. "It would be very good for the state if a large number of federal inmates are transferred out, in light of the overcrowding we have." Families of the deceased are gathered outside the prison and are demanding answers.
Governor Medina said that all of the escaped prisoners belong to the Zetas cartel, while the dead belong to the rival Cartel del Golfo. Both of these have spread violence and gruesome killings throughout the northern tier of Mexico ever since a breakdown in relations between the two organizations in 2010.
"Unfortunately, a group of traitors has set back the work of a lot of good police," Governor Medina told the news conference. "The most important thing is to make sure that the people working on the inside are on the side of the law, and that they not be corrupted and collaborate with the criminals, as the investigations indicate they presumably did." While it is unclear just how the prison break took place, Medina said that no cartel members had broken into the prison to release the escaped convicts. No firearms were smuggled into the lock-up. Apparently, all of the deaths can be attributed to shanks or blunt objects.
All 2,500 inmates were there on federal charges, with as many as 70% yet to be convicted. The prison population there grew by 1,500 in the last year to 180% of capacity, the result of a crackdown on organized crime and drug trafficking. Medina said about 60% of inmates in local lockups across the state are facing federal charges.
The prison riot in Nuevo Leon was one of the deadliest so far. Just two days before, seven inmates were killed and 12 wounded in a fight at Nuevo Leon's Cadereyta prison. In January, 31 inmates died in a prison in Tamaulipas state, which also borders Texas. Another fight in a Tamaulipas prison in the border city of Matamoros in October 2011 killed 20 inmates and injured 12. In July 2011, a melée in the city of Juarez, which borders Texas, brought death to 17 inmates. The prison warden and four guards have been arrested in that case. Closed-circuit video of the riot show inmates opening doors to let armed prisoners into a room where the slain victims were reportedly having a fiesta. Twenty-three people were killed in a prison riot in Durango, a state in north-central Mexico, in 2010. In Gomez Palacio, another city in Durango, a prison riot there killed 19 people.
More than 47,500 people have been killed in Mexico’s narco-war since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón stepped up law enforcement throughout the country and involved units of the Mexican military, especially naval infantry special forces to take down the heavily-armed narco-terrorists. Members of law enforcement in Mexico's local jurisdictions have often been accused of complicity with the narcotraffickers, while many have been killed. Others have resigned after receiving death threats. In some towns in northern Mexico, drug cartels openly recruit for new members and offer sign-up bonuses, especially for former members of the military.
Violence in Mexico and Central America has increased, even while demand for narcotics in the United States continues. The Nuevo Leon riot too place just days after a fire in Honduras left 359 dead in a Tegucigalpa jail, again highlighting terrible overcrowding in the region’s lock-ups. Many of the dead in Honduras had not been tried, having been detained for questioning or alleged involvement in criminal activity. Gangs such as Marasalvatrucha and MS-13 have been the bane of Central America, committing multiple murders and making Guatemala, for instance, a country with some of the highest rates of murder – especially of women – in the world.