Bolivia: prison massacre sparks protests

Family members of inmates are keeping vigil outside Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with signs demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones, after an explosion of violence at the facility left at least 30 dead Aug. 24. Authorities have still not released the names of the dead and wounded in the conflagration that began as a fight between rival gangs.  Most of the victims burned to death after inmates blew up two propane tanks and fashioned others into improvised flamethrowers. Some prisoners jumped from the roof to escape the flames. Among those killed was an 18-month-old infant, one of some 250 children living in the prison with their incarcerated parents. Inmates at two other Bolivian prisons—San Pedro in La Paz, and San Sebatián in Cochabamba—have declared their own "state of emergency" in solidarity with the Palmasola prisoners, and to demand a solution to the grave problems in the country's penal institutions.

Most Bolivian prisons are essentially controlled by gangs within the walls, and are severely overcrowded. In the past few years, the number of prisoners in the country has doubled to 15,000, without any new facilities being built to house them. Less than 20% of prisoners have actually been sentenced, and nearly 80% are incarcerated under "preventative detention" measures.  (Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, BBC News, Aug. 24)

See our last post on the prison crisis in Latin America.

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