REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- A prison riot that left 44 inmates beaten or knifed to death served as cover for a massive jail break by members of Mexico’s deadliest criminal gang, the Zetas, authorities said Monday.
Thirty Zeta members escaped from the maximum-security Apodaca prison in northern Mexico during Sunday’s brawl -- with apparent complicity of guards and possibly other top prison officials, the authorities said.
The prison warden, three other penitentiary officials and 18 guards have been suspended and detained for questioning, said Rodrigo Medina, governor of the state of Nuevo Leon, where Apodaca is located (link in Spanish).
“We can say without a doubt that this was premeditated and planned,” Medina said in a news conference, where he offered a nearly $800,000 reward for information leading to the recapture of the escapees.
“This isn't a thing where, in the middle of a riot, it occurred to these people to escape,” Medina said. “There was a plan, which undoubtedly relied on the complicity of some officials.”
The deadly violence and the escape underscored the abysmal condition of Mexican prisons, woefully overcrowded, rife with corruption and riddled by violence. While such troubles plague penal systems throughout Latin America, the problems are especially acute in Mexico, where a military crackdown on drug cartels has helped fill cells often to more than double capacity.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: Ambulances carry bodies from Apodaca prison, where 44 people died Sunday during a riot and jail break. Credit: Miguel Sierra / EPA