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MEXICAN PRISONS
Mexican army urged to take over prisons
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Inmates are carrying out vendettas inside prison walls, planning escapes and running their outside-world drug empires — even at Mexico's highest-security penitentiaries, prompting Mexico City's mayor to call for the army to intervene.

Photo: Officials say inmates at Puente Grande State Penitentiary outside Guadalajara are dealing drugs and planning to escape. By Guillermo Arias, AP
Mexican prisons have always been infamous for illegal activity. Guns are often smuggled into cellblocks, guards take bribes, and authorities are just getting around to blocking cell phone use, even in model prisons built in the 1990s as part of the country's war on drugs.

But chaos this week, including two inmate vendetta killings, have even Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha admitting that problems have reached a crisis level.

"What is happening is that a breakdown is occurring due to corruption," Macedo de la Concha said soon after Arturo Guzman, brother of fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was shot to death by another inmate Dec. 31 at the top-security La Palma prison, just west of Mexico City.

Just a day after Macedo spoke, another inmate was shot to death — again with a smuggled pistol — at a prison in the western state of Michoacan.

La Palma is Mexico's showcase prison, but its warden was fired after the killing. He is being questioned in the death after failing to cooperate in the investigation.

It was the second assassination at La Palma since Oct. 6, when a prisoner gunned down another associate of Guzman's with a smuggled pistol.

Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an early presidential front-runner for the 2006 elections, said that "given the seriousness of the situation, the army should be brought in to temporarily take over the running of the prisons," a suggestion rejected by President Vicente Fox's government.

Jalisco Gov. Francisco Ramirez Acuna — whose state includes the second-highest security prison, Puente Grande — says he's had enough, and doesn't want any more dangerous federal inmates transferred to his state.

"They should keep them in La Palma and enforce adequate security there," Ramirez Acuna said.

In 2001, "El Chapo" Guzman himself escaped from Puente Grande by bribing guards. Prosecutors contend that Guzman and other drug lords practically ran the prison, putting guards on their payroll and smuggling in alcohol, drugs, prostitutes — even Viagra. The credibility of prison officials has gotten so bad that on Thursday, when police beefed up a security cordon around Puente Grande, rumors flew that its highest-profile inmate had escaped — and the only way authorities could quell the rumors was to offer a video of him still in custody.

The inmate — Rafael Caro Quintero, serving a 40-year sentence for the torture-murder of a U.S. DEA agent — was among dozens of inmates moved to Puente Grande in August after evidence emerged of a planned jailbreak at La Palma. Officials argue the fact the men are in jail at all is a testament to Mexico's increased anti-drug enforcement. But they acknowledge they are still dangerous.

"Some inmates, because of the economic power and organizational strength of their gangs, put prisons under a great deal of pressure," Macedo de la Concha said.

He said Osiel Cardenas, a suspected drug lord held at La Palma, "has made his presence felt and has tried to exert his power not only inside the prison but outside as well."

Organized crime prosecutor Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos acknowledged that Cardenas and accused trafficker Benjamin Arellano Felix had forged an alliance while locked up in La Palma to fight turf wars against interlopers like Guzman through gunmen acting on their orders on the outside.

Cardenas may have decided to fight inside the prison, as well.

For many years, authorities say drug lords continued to run their cartels from inside prison, either by using smuggled cell phones or passing orders through lawyers and relatives with visiting rights.

It was only recently that cell phone signals were blocked at La Palma, though they still work at Puente Grande. Officials say blocking equipment is being installed there.

"These guys want to keep carrying out their criminal activities and their confrontations with other gang leaders" inside prison, Macedo de la Concha said.

The crisis has led Mexican authorities to revive an island penal colony 70 miles off Mexico's southern Pacific coast that had been scheduled for conversion to a nature reserve.

Now, experts like Luis Jose Hinojosa suggest Mexico must turn to even more remote prison islands, like the Revillagigedo Islands, over 400 miles off the western Pacific coast.

Public Safety Secretary Ramon Martin Huerta, who oversees Mexico's prisons, concedes that "given the problems of overcrowding, underfunding, and corruption, we have to urgently restructure the country's prison system."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

5 inmates shoot their way out of Baja prison
2 reportedly have drug-cartel links
By Anna Cearley - STAFF WRITER - April 15, 2004


MIGUEL CERVANTES photoAn investigator photographed the area near La Mesa prison in Tijuana, where five inmates escaped in a shootout yesterday.
TIJUANA – Mexican authorities were searching yesterday for five men who escaped from a state prison in a shootout that seriously wounded a prison guard.

One escapee, Héctor Flores Esquivias, was linked to the 1998 slaughter of 19 people in a drug trafficking feud in Baja California, authorities said.

Another escapee, Luis Alberto Salazar Vega, was connected to the January 2002 kidnapping of a U.S.-born man who managed to escape and alert authorities. Two city police officers were killed while pursuing the suspects in that incident. Flores and Salazar are suspected of working for groups that have ties with the region's most powerful drug traffickers. The other escapees were identified as Luis Chávez García, Jorge Ruvalcaba Verduzco and Fausto Sánchez González, all being held for crimes such as murder and kidnapping.

Details of the escape were sketchy. State authorities said two armed inmates working in the prison's clinic forced their way out about 7:45 a.m. yesterday, fleeing with three others to a car outside the prison. A shootout ensued between prison guards and people in the car, which reportedly was stolen in Chula Vista.

Authorities said the wounded guard was in serious condition in a local hospital. "The system is improving, but usually the prisoner escapes take place with complicity of others," said Victor Clark, a Tijuana-based human rights activist.

La Mesa prison has had a reputation for lawlessness and corruption. In 2002 authorities cracked down on the community of prisoners who had built a mini-city inside, and many of the more serious offenders were sent to the modern El Hongo facility east of Tecate. State officials said some of the men were in La Mesa prison instead of El Hongo because they were going to be making court appearances soon in Tijuana.

Three guards are facing charges in the escape of several prisoners last year from La Mesa prison. Alejandro Parra, sub-secretary for the state penitentiary system, said it was too early to say if that was the case in yesterday's escape. The escape also raised questions about who was behind such a well-planned effort. While authorities wouldn't talk publicly, one theory circulating was that the region's weakened Arellano Félix drug cartel was trying to recoup some of its jailed gunmen. At the time of Salazar's arrest in 2002, he was working with a group that had ties to the Arellanos, according to sources and local media.

Flores was among 11 suspects who Mexican authorities said also worked for a group that had ties to the Arellanos. The suspects apparently went to a ranch in El Sauzal intending to take possession of some drugs as payment for a debt, Mexican authorities said at the time. An argument escalated into a massacre of members of three families living at the ranch. The dead included an infant, a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.

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All information is © Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff
All information is © Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff